National Strategy for Countering Biological Threats
We are experiencing an unparalleled period of advancement and innovation in the life sciences globally that continues to transform our way of life. Whether augmenting our ability to provide health care and protect the environment, or expanding our capacity for energy and agricultural production towards global sustainability, continued research and development in the life sciences is essential to a brighter future for all people.
The beneficial nature of life science research is reflected in the widespread manner in which it occurs. From cutting-edge academic institutes, to industrial research centers, to private laboratories in basements and garages, progress is increasingly driven by innovation and open access to the insights and materials needed to advance individual initiatives.
We must support the ongoing revolution in the life sciences by seeking to ensure that resulting discoveries and their applications, used solely for peaceful and beneficial purposes, are globally available. At the same time, we must be mindful of the risks throughout history posed by those who sought to misuse the products of new technologies for harmful purposes. Specifically, we must reduce the risk that misuse of the life sciences could result in the deliberate or inadvertent release of biological material in a manner that sickens or kills people, animals, or plants, or renders unusable critical resources.
The effective dissemination of a lethal biological agent within an unprotected population could place at risk the lives of hundreds of thousands of people. The unmitigated consequences of such an event could overwhelm our public health capabilities, potentially causing an untold number of deaths. The economic cost could exceed one trillion dollars for each such incident. In addition, there could be significant societal and political consequences that would derive from the incident’s direct impact on our way of life and the public’s trust in government. Since 2001, the United States Government has significantly expanded its efforts to improve the Nation’s ability to recognize and respond to acts of bioterrorism or other significant outbreaks of infectious disease; however, efforts targeted to prevent such threats have received comparatively limited policy focus or substantive guidance at the National level. Although it is entirely feasible to mitigate the impact of even a large-scale biological attack upon a city’s population, doing so incurs a significant cost and
effort. We therefore need to place increased priority on actions to further reduce the likelihood that such an attack might occur.
This Strategy will guide our efforts to prevent such incidents by reducing the risk that misuse of the life sciences or derivative materials, techniques, or expertise will result in the use or intent to use biological agents to cause harm. It also complements existing policies, plans, and preparations to advance our ability to respond to public health crises of natural, accidental, or deliberate origin.