Dutch Export Controls Prevent Publication of Avian Influenza Data

The Netherlands' export controls are preventing the international dissemination of a Dutch study that increased transmissibility of the avian flu virus, National Public Radio reported on Monday (see GSN, April 9).

Scientists at the Erasmus University Medical Center produced a version of the bird flu that can be more easily passed among mammals.

The U.S. National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity in March dropped its 2011 call for restricting some data research articles produced from the Dutch study and a similar project at the University of Wisconsin (Madison).

At the end of 2011, U.S. officials said they would attempt to establish a framework that would permit qualified researchers and other specialists across the globe to have access to the data from the studies in accordance with efforts to defend against a potential bird flu epidemic among humans.

When the U.S. biodefense panel reconvened in recent weeks, members were informed that those plans had been curbed in part due to export regulations that would make it difficult to share the sensitive data.

"We were told that due to various legal and security impediments, that it wouldn't be possible to have a sharing system for only some people and not others," University of Michigan microbiologist and board member Michael Imperiale told NPR.

That seemingly left two options -- allow anyone access to the data or nobody. The choice figured highly into the panel's recent decision to recommend unrestricted publishing of the study information.

Virologist Ron Fouchier, who led the Erasmus study, at a conference last week in London said he would not be able to provide details of his flu research as "I've been notified by the Dutch government that in contrast to the U.S. government, they have not lifted their export control restrictions."

In an e-mail statement to NPR, Fouchier said he had yet to transmit to the journal Science an updated version of his flu study and that "export control indeed is the reason."

Press freedoms in the United States would permit publication of the study once it is delivered to the journal, so the Netherlands acted pre-emptively to prevent dissemination.

Fouchier is to discuss the matter with Dutch government officials on April 23. "We need to await the conclusions from the meeting on April 23 before we can proceed with our manuscript," the scientist said (Nell Greenfield Boyce, National Public Radio, April 10).

April 11, 2012
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The Netherlands' export controls are preventing the international dissemination of a Dutch study that increased transmissibility of the avian flu virus, National Public Radio reported on Monday.

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