Milk-terror article: "Road map for terrorists" or contribution to biodefense?

A controversial dispute broke in the United States between medical officials and the National Academy of Sciences. The U.S. government requested to withhold a scientific article about potential threat of terrorists poisoning the United States' milk supply, but failed, as the National Academy of Sciences concluded the article wouldn't help attackers.

Lawrence M. Wein and Yifan Liu of Stanford University in their study consider the ways terrorists could release botulinum toxin into the U.S. milk supply and what effective amounts might be. According to the article, about a third of an ounce of botulinum toxin poured into a milk truck en route from a dairy farm to a processing plant could cause hundreds of thousands of deaths and billions of dollars in economic losses, report LA Times.

The researchers based their calculations on an attack at a single processing facility, supplied by a steady stream of 5,500-gallon trucks that pour raw milk into 50,000 gallon tanks for processing. Each gallon of milk is typically consumed by one child and three adults in 3Ѕ days, cites the report USA Today.

As President of the National Academy Bruce Alberts believes, terrorists would not learn anything useful from the article about the minimum amount of toxin to be poisoning. "And we can detect no other information in this article important for a terrorist that is not already immediately available to anyone who has access to information from the World Wide Web."

Actually, Alberts added, publication of the article by the Academy could instead contribute to the U.S. biodefense, writes AP.

The article was originally planned for publication on May 30, but was withheld at the request of Stewart Simonson, assistant secretary of Health and Human Services, who contended the paper was a "road map for terrorists."

According to Simonson, the article provided too much detailed coverage on potentially vulnerable areas of the milk supply and argued that its publication "could have very serious health and national security consequences."

After the release of the article on the Academy Internet site Tuesday (the print version will appear on the July 12) Health and Human Services spokesman Bill Hall said the agency still feels the material shouldn't have been published.

"We respect the Academy's position but we don't agree with it," Hall said. The "consequences could be dire and it will be HHS, and not the Academy, that will have to deal with it."

A key question is the percentage of poisoning botulinum toxin that would be inactivated by milk pasteurization, and Alberts, the Academy president, said that in those discussions the Academy learned improvements had been made to the process since the terrorist attacks.

Because of those improvements the nation may be safer from such an attack than the paper estimated, believes the author of the article Lawrence M. Wein.

Wein notes that milk is safer today than it once was, because of improved Pasteurization procedures. Chris Galen of the National Milk Producers Federation informed USA Today that in the last two years, many milk producers have voluntarily begun sealing tanker trucks to guard against contamination.

According to LA Times, Wein’s previous research had forecast the likely effects of terrorist attacks involving anthrax and smallpox.

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