St. Paul, MN (May 23, 2002)—In July, plant health scientists from around the world will meet in Wisconsin where one of the key subjects under discussion will be crop protection and bioterrorism. The scientists will hear presentations on how changes in U.S. policies may affect their research, what the actual threat level may be, and what steps have been, and are being taken, to prevent and respond to such attacks.“We have a responsibility as scientists to look at these issues,” says R. James Cook, a plant health scientist at Washington State University, and organizer of the meeting’s symposium, “Crop Biosecurity: Countering Agricultural Bioterrorism.” He adds that while most plant health scientists believe the risk of a bioterrorist attack on the world’s food crops is low; technological and scientific advances could easily change that in the future. “It’s important not to overreact,” says Cook. “But we do need to be prepared.”Of more immediate concern, say the scientists, is the possible impact new regulations and legislation might have on their research activities. “There’s been a lot of talk about the need to tighten security in the U.S.,” says Cook. “This is understandable and in many areas much-needed. However, some of these initiatives could end up having an unintended negative effect on the free flow of scientific information.”The scientists worry that efforts to protect the U.S. agriculture might go too far, making it difficult for scientists from other nations to work together with American plant scientists to combat diseases. Adds Cook, “We’ve made considerable advances in helping to improve world agriculture, but that is dependent on the open exchange of information and U.S. willingness to educate international students—both of which could be impacted by new regulations.”A top official with the United States Department of Agriculture will speak at the symposium, providing an update on the current regulatory climate and offering an opportunity for the scientists to provide feedback on bioterrorism protection efforts. “Government leaders have been very receptive and interested in our input and participation on this issue,” says Cook. “Together we can develop a program that provides reasonable protection without compromising our role as a world leader in plant disease research.”The symposium on bioterrorism will be held at the Annual Meeting of The American Phytopathological Society in Milwaukee, Wisconsin on Sunday, July 28 from 1:00 to 5:00 PM. Complimentary registration is available for reporters and science writers. The American Phytopathological Society (APS) is a nonprofit, professional scientific organization dedicated to the study and control of plant diseases, with 5,000 members worldwide.
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