- The Washington Times - Monday, June 23, 2003

President Bush yesterday urged Congress to pass Project BioShield, a $6 billion plan to battle anthrax, smallpox and other bioterrorism agents by speeding the development of vaccines and treatments.

“Project BioShield will give our scientific leaders greater authority and more flexibility in decisions that may affect our national security,” Mr. Bush said at a meeting of the Biotechnology Industry Association.

“Our labs will be able to hire the right experts, to buy the right equipment and to speed the construction of the right facilities to accelerate urgently needed discoveries,” he added.

It was the first major push for passage of the project since Mr. Bush announced the initiative in his State of the Union speech in January. He is said to be increasingly frustrated that Congress has not passed the measure.

“The message is clear: For the sake of our national security, the United States Congress must pass the BioShield legislation as soon as possible,” he said.

“Your industry must stay involved with this issue,” he told those gathered. “If you’re interested in seeing more flexibility and more research dollars for the sake of national security, I need your help in lobbying the members of the United States Congress.”

Mr. Bush said he wants the government to spend $6 billion during the next decade to accelerate the research, production and distribution of vaccines and treatments against botulinum toxin, ebola and other bioterror threats. He predicted that the effort also would generate secondary health benefits.

“As scientists work to defeat the weapons of bioterror, I know they will gain new insights into the workings of other diseases,” he said. “And this will also break new ground for the search for treatments and cures.

“And this, in turn, can provide great benefits for all humanity, especially in developing countries, where infectious diseases often go uncontrolled,” he added.

The president also praised the biotechnology industry for developing genetically enhanced crops that resist pests and drought while delivering greater yields than ordinary crops. He criticized Europe for discouraging starving nations in Africa from developing or even consuming what critics call “Frankenfood.”

“Acting on unfounded, unscientific fears, many European governments have blocked the import of all new biotech crops,” Mr. Bush said. “Because of these artificial obstacles, many African nations avoid investing in biotechnology, worried that their products will be shut out of important European markets.”

Mr. Bush, who plans to visit numerous nations in Africa next month, has pledged $15 billion to combat AIDS on the continent. Having earlier criticized Europe for not failing to make similar financial commitments, the president yesterday reiterated his call for Europe to battle hunger in Africa.

“For the sake of a continent threatened by famine, I urge the European governments to end their opposition to biotechnology,” he added. “We should encourage the spread of safe, effective biotechnology to win the fight against global hunger.”

Mr. Bush also thanked the biotechnology industry for helping develop drugs to combat a range of common diseases. And he used the speech as an occasion to call for passage of his Medicare reform proposal, which includes a prescription drug benefit for senior citizens.

“While medicine has dramatically advanced, Medicare hadn’t,” the president said. “We have a responsibility to improve and strengthen Medicare by making modern medicine an integral part of the Medicare system, and that includes prescription drugs for all our seniors.

“This is a goal you have supported for several years,” he added. “And if we finally put aside partisan politics and focus on what’s right for American seniors, I believe we can achieve the goal this year.”

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