The Hague wants new bird flu kept secret

RNW archive

This article is part of the RNW archive. RNW is the former Radio Netherlands Worldwide or Wereldomroep, which was founded as the Dutch international public broadcaster in 1947. In 2011, the Dutch government decided to cut funding and shift RNW from the ministry of Education, Culture and Science to the ministry of Foreign Affairs. More information about RNW Media’s current activities can be found at https://www.rnw.org/about-rnw-media.

The Dutch government wants to block the publication of a controversial article on a deadly bird flu strain engineered by the Rotterdam Erasmus Medical Centre. The Hague says it wants to prevent the information from falling into the hands of terrorists.

Last week, the US National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity dropped its opposition to the publication of two articles that were to appear in two leading scientific journals, Science and Nature. Earlier this week, US scientists who conducted similar research announced their results at an international conference. The Dutch Economy Ministry first wants the Rotterdam researchers to apply for an export permit.

The Dutch research team, led by Ron Fouchier, caused controversy last year after developing a bird flu strain that could be transmitted by air. Though the lab research involved ferrets, the new strain could conceivably also infect people. Mr Fouchier described the virus as “probably one of the most dangerous viruses one can make.” Soon after, Japanese-American researchers reached the same conclusion.

The US National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity (NSABB) initially blocked the publication fearing terrorists could use the information to develop a biological weapon of mass destruction. The World Health Organisation, on the other hand, insisted on full disclosure of the research results, saying they are essential to help prevent a bird flu pandemic.

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