U.S. Representative Brad Sherman (D-Calif.) last week introduced a bill aimed at establishing a new international body charged with bolstering global preparations for biological threats, the International Security and Biopolicy Institute announced (see GSN, June 11).
The new "International Biosecurity Initiative" would seek to improve biological threat detection and response efforts in other countries through education and other programs, according to the think tank. The bill calls for a State Department report on international legal arrangements with regard to biological threats, and it seeks the formation of an expert panel with representatives from various nations to advise the new initiative.
House Foreign Affairs Terrorism, Nonproliferation and Trade Subcommittee staffers said they have discussed with their Homeland Security Committee counterparts possible inclusion of the bill's content in the WMD Prevention and Preparedness Act of 2010, a proposal awaiting a House floor vote.
The United States' biodefense policy "is in need of a well coordinated strategy to ensure the effectiveness of efforts to protect [U.S.] national security and foreign policy interests," the legislation states.
"Biological risks extend beyond biological weapons developed or used by foreign countries and also include intentional release of harmful biological agents by nonstate groups or individuals, harmful outcomes through unintentional release or unforeseen consequences of biological research and experimental biological agents, and natural disease outbreaks," according to the bill.
Such an event "anywhere in the world could cause devastating loss of life and economic harm," the document states. "Improving global capacity for monitoring and detecting disease outbreaks improves the ability of the United States to counter both natural and man-made biological risks."
The International Biosecurity Initiative would advance the objectives of the President Obama's National Strategy for Countering Biological Threats in part by seeking worldwide standards for securing sensitive biological materials and laboratories.
Such standards would be created and routinely updated in cooperation with multilateral entities with private-sector input, and the rules would be "based on international needs and domestic lessons learned," the bill states. The cooperative effort would also aim to advance relevant codes of ethics, emergency reporting and response procedures and training programs.
In addition, the proposed initiative would seek to "ensure a strong legal regime for biosecurity" by strengthening criminal penalties in various countries, improving related law enforcement cooperation between governments and by working to bolster enforcement of the Biological Weapons Convention.
The initiative would aim to make sure governments meet all World Health Organization reporting requirements, and it would work with the U.S. Emerging Pandemic Threats program to enhance biological threat monitoring capabilities (International Security and Biopolicy Institute release, Oct. 1).