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Annan Warns of "Catastrophic" Biotech Danger

Date: 20-Nov-06
Country: SWITZERLAND

Annan, speaking on Saturday in the Swiss university town, warned of "catastrophic" results if recent advances in biotechnology, including gene manipulation and work with viruses, fell into the wrong hands.

"As biological research expands, and technologies become increasingly accessible, this potential for accidental or intentional harm grows exponentially," he said in the text of a speech.

"Even novices working in small laboratories will be able to carry out gene manipulation."

Annan's warning comes after he called in May for a global forum on biological terrorism, saying current treaties were too weak and governmental and commercial initiatives too scattered.

Annan likened the current consensus-building phase over life-sciences rules to the debate around nuclear technology in the 1950s that preceded the creation of the International Atomic Energy Agency and the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

"We lack an international system of safeguards to manage those risks. Scientists may do their best to follow rules for responsible conduct of research. But efforts to harmonize these rules on a global level are outpaced by the galloping advance of science itself," he said.

Annan was speaking at an event where he received the Max Schmidheiny Freedom Prize.

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