WASHINGTON -- Federal officials are developing an export banon selected biotechnology equipment that could be used toproduce biological warfare agents.

President Bush last November signed an executive orderdirecting the departments of Commerce and State to prepareby Feb. 15 a list of goods, technologies and services that couldbe used in making biological and chemical weapons. Exports ofthese items are to be banned.

The Commerce Department's Bureau of Export Administrationis reviewing various recommendations and expects to issue therestrictions by Feb. 15, said James Seevaratnam, an analystwith the agency.

A Commerce Department advisory committee on biotechnologytrade issues recommended that the export ban be restricted toequipment used in a few technologies, such as those for makingbiosensors and encapsulated microbial products. It also urgedtracking of large shipments of complex culture media that canbe used to grow pathogenic organisms, said Robert Stevenson,committee chairman.

The committee recommended excluding from the export ban alarger list of equipment prepared by the department's staff,said Stevenson, who is also director of the American TypeCulture Collection, a non-profit reference library of biologicalsamples. That proposed list included fermenters, filtrationequipment and process chromatography columns, which are allso widely available that an export ban would be infeasible.

Extensive export controls would hurt the industry, said WilliamCarpenter, vice president and general manager of MonsantoAgricultural Co.'s new products division in St. Louis. "I don'tthink anyone's stopped to think about the bureaucracy it'sgoing to take to implement this," he said.

Hardest hit would be small companies that lack experiencedregulatory personnel, Carpenter said. He heads a campaign ofthe Chemical Manufacturers Association in support ofmultilateral, verifiable controls on chemical and biologicalweapons proliferation as an alternative to export bans.

Mycogen Corp. of San Diego is unconcerned about added exportcontrols because the company is concentrating on the U.S.market, said Jerry Caulder, its president and chief executiveofficer. Mycogen makes pesticide products with encapsulatedkilled bacteria that contain insect toxins.

In addition to the review ordered by the president, Congressmay widen an investigation into exports of biological agents toinclude biotechnology equipment, said Ted Jacobs, counsel tothe House Subcommittee on Commerce, Consumer andMonetary Affairs. That subcommittee reported last month thatdespite a ban on exports of pathogenic agents to Iraq and Syria,the commerce department had approved more than 20shipments of biological agents to those nations since 1987.

-- Carol Ezzell Washington Bureau Chief

(c) 1997 American Health Consultants. All rights reserved.