Experts discuss ways U.S. can improve biological, chemical defenses

Policies and programs that are aimed at guarding our nation against catastrophic biological and chemical threats, including zoonoses and threats against livestock, will receive a thorough examination in the coming weeks following a series of meetings that former Sen. Joe Lieberman and former Gov. Tom Ridge, co-chairs of the Blue Ribbon Study Panel on Biodefense, have convened.

On Jan. 14, the Blue Ribbon Study Panel held its second meeting with ex officio members and nearly a dozen experts, covering continued challenges in preventing and protecting the United States from these threats. Several veterinarians were there to represent the profession, including: David Franz, a private consultant and expert in cooperative threat reduction, who addressed international diplomacy issues; Tom Ksiazek, director of high containment laboratory operations at Galveston National Laboratory, who addressed biosecurity issues and the Select Agent Program; and Curt Mann, founding member of Empryse Group, who spoke on agricultural defense issues. Gerald Parker, vice president of public health preparedness and response at Texas A&M University and a standing ex officio member of the panel, also brought a wealth of medical countermeasure, preparedness leadership, and agricultural defense expertise to the table. Veterinarian George Poste, also an ex officio member, presented at the panel’s first meeting on Dec. 4, commenting that animals are the primary source of infections that are emerging in humans.

The Blue Ribbon Study Panel is charged with issuing a report that addresses the areas that need improvement in order for the country to achieve optimal resilience to biological and chemical threats. The veterinarians who provided input at the Jan. 14 meeting will help inform the report, which is expected to be presented to Congress and the Obama administration later this spring with recommendations for policy and funding adjustments.

The panel will continue to hold meetings in the coming months to assess additional topics in preparedness, many of which will be of interest to the veterinary community, including surveillance for and means to defend against agricultural threats and planning for the zoonotic aspects of emerging threats like the Ebola virus. Future meeting agendas have not yet been released.

For more information, visit the panel’s website or contact Ellen Carlin, a veterinarian and co-director of the panel, at

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