Monday, March 12, 2007

Wanna buy a bridge?

Carrot, onion, beet expert serves as UW spokesman on BSL-4 lab safety

On March 8, 2007, three representatives from UW-Madison made a presentation to the Dane County Board of Supervisors on the proposed National Bio- and Agro-Defense Facility (NBAF). UW-Madison is one of 14 semifinalists bidding to host the planned NBAF, a facility intended to replace the aging and contaminated Plum Island Animal Disease Center in New York. NBAF will feature BSL-4 laboratories intended to study the most dangerous diseases known and yet to be discovered or designed.

The day of the meeting, the Wisconsin State Journal newspaper ran an article discussing the controversy that has erupted between the citizens of Dunn and the university. See: Dunn residents, board oppose possible disease lab

This was the second such meeting open to the public. The first was a November 30, 2007, public presentation at the Town of Dunn, the proposed site for the new lab. [See: "Dunn is done for" and " The Poisoned Plum" for additional background. See too: STOP NBAF KEGONSA, the community effort’s website.

Irwin Goldman, associate dean for research in the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences was the primary university spokesperson at the March 8, presentation; he was interviewed for the March 8, Wisconsin State Journal article:
Goldman said one of the things that struck him at the November town meeting was the level of misinformation about the facility. A number of people were concerned the facility would develop biological weapons, which university and federal officials say is simply not true.

Goldman isn't bothered by the politics.

"It's just like science," Goldman said. "You've got to lay it on the table and then let people pick it apart."
Goldman’s opinion regarding the “level of misinformation” among those at the Dunn Town Hall meeting is ironic and telling.

At that meeting, held on November 30, the panel of UW experts was asked whether any of them had read Michael C. Carroll’s Lab 257: The Disturbing Story of the Government’s Secret Plum Island Germ Laboratory. No one on the panel was familiar with the book. During the Dunn meeting, it was clear that the panel’s information had come from the Department of Homeland Security’s website, and that not one of them had spent any time looking into the history of Plum Island or doing any independent investigation. They marched in perfect lock step and the blinders were securely in place.

At the March 8 meeting, over three months later, the three-man UW delegation had still not read the book, even though many people in Dunn had. The delegation was still unable to address concerns raised by its author.

The university’s decision to use Irwin Goldman as a spokesperson for its efforts to host the NABF is very odd. Odder still, was Goldman’s claim that he understood the nature of risk associated with science, and his smooth-talking-you-have-nothing-to-worry-about manner and message.

Irwin Goldman is an expert in the genetics of carrots, onions, and beets. From his website, here’s a list of his last ten published papers:

Horticulture, horticultural science, and 100 years of ASHS. HortScience.

Corn and vegetable yield trends, 1900-present. HortScience.

Temporal aspects of onion-induced antiplatelet activity. Plant Foods for Human Nutrition.

Trends in productivity of US crops and long term selection. Plant Breeding Reviews.

Evaluation of long-day onions for resistance to white rot infection using greenhouse and laboratory techniques. Journal of the American Society for Horticultural Science.

Recognition of fruits and vegetables as healthful: vitamins, minerals, fiber, and phytonutrients. HortTechnology.

Back to the future of food: phytonutrients and quality in vegetable crops for the 21st century. Acta Horticulturae.

Relationship of white rot resistance to pyruvate and S-alk(en)yl-L-cysteine sulfoxides in onion roots. Acta Horticulturae.

Flavor precursor (S-alk(en)yl-l-cysteine sulfoxide) concentration and composition in onion plant organs and predictability of field white rot reaction of onions. Journal of the American Society for Horticultural Science.

A one-pass semi-quantitative method for extraction and analysis of carotenoids and tocopherols in carrot. HortScience.

Goldman told the Dane County Supervisors that he was knowledgeable of the risk associated with biological research because he was familiar with the use of pesticides and herbicides. In his opinion, based on his own expertise in horticulture, he found nothing to be concerned with in having a BSL-4 lab in town.

I have nothing against most horticulturists. I’m a vegan and a gardener. But, honestly, how stupid would you have to imagine the public to be for you to choose an onion expert to serve as a spokesperson for the plan to build a laboratory that intends to study the most deadly diseases known?

Why an onion expert rather than a member of the UW Institutional Biosafety Committee (IBC)? And where was Andy Garcia-Rivera, Director of the UW Safety Department, and a permanent member of the IBC? He had been at the previous meeting. He had told the people of Dunn that lab personnel were trained to hold their breath in the event that a vial of some dangerous substance was broken.

Onion-expert Irwin Goldman was accompanied at the Dane County Supervisor’s meeting by Daryl Buss, dean of the School of Veterinary Medicine, and James Tracy, associate dean for research of the School of Veterinary Medicine. Their combined ignorance and arrogance was stunning.

One of the concerns raised at both meetings was the likelihood of biowarfare agents being studied at the proposed lab. This was one of the “misinformed” concerns raised during the Dunn meeting commented on by onion-expert Goldman in the newspaper.

Dean Buss said that because the United States had signed the 1972 Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention, such concerns were unfounded. Quit worrying; the government would never lie to us. He said he knew the lab would not be involved with germ warfare from visiting the Department of Homeland Security website. Unbelievable.

Buss and onion-expert Goldman should have considered some other sources like these: NIAID
Are NIAID scientists already studying potential agents of bioterrorism?
Even before the current emphasis on biodefense, NIAID scientists had been studying organisms that cause a variety of infectious diseases. Examples of diseases caused by these organisms include plague, rabies, tick-borne encephalitis, West Nile virus disease, influenza, anthrax infection, Ebola virus hemorrhagic fever, HIV, tuberculosis, transmissible spongiform encephalopathies, and Q fever. Potentially, some of these microbes also could be used as agents of bioterrorism. All of this work has been carried out in either the Maryland or Montana laboratories with required safety measures in place. (Modified 12/1/05)
Public Health Research Institute Center

PHRI has received a $2 million grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to perform biodefense-related research as part of an award to the Northeast Biodefense Center for a Regional Center of Excellence in Biodefense and Emerging Infectious Diseases. Announced by HHS Secretary Tommy G. Thompson, the PHRI award is part of a $350 million NIH initiative to protect the world against the threat of bioterrorism by funding eight regional research centers throughout the USA. [Affiliate institution: Plum Island Animal Disease Center.]

United States Government Accountability Office Report to Congressional Committees. December 2005. PLUM ISLAND ANIMAL DISEASE CENTER: DHS and USDA Are Successfully Coordinating Current Work, but Long-Term Plans Are Being Assessed.
[T]he information DHS provided about its role at Plum Island has emphasized deliberate introductions. For example, the Joint Strategy emphasizes the bioterrorism focus of DHS work at Plum Island in describing the agency’s mission "to conduct, stimulate, and enable research and development to prevent or mitigate the effects of catastrophic terrorism."
Bush "Developing Illegal Bioterror Weapons" for Offensive Use Wednesday 20 December 2006.

Common Dreams:
Washington alone rejects agreement on inspections to enforce 1972 treaty

Sunshine Project’s report on secrecy regarding bio-warfare at UW.

"It's just like science," Goldman said. "You've got to lay it on the table and then let people pick it apart."

Except, in the case of life sciences at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, secrecy is the name of the game.

Just recently, the university destroyed over 600 videotapes of experiments using monkeys to keep the evidence off the table; a few years ago they paid off a veterinarian with over a quarter of a million dollars and told her to stay quiet about the care of the animals in the lab she worked in; just recently the university has stated that it will fulfill public information requests regarding experiments using monkeys by having someone work on them one hour a week and that fulfilling the requests will take many years.

I am quite struck by onion-expert Goldman’s misunderstanding of science at UW-Madison.

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