September 30, 2021

Risch Introduces Legislation to Curb Biological Weapons Development

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Jim Risch (R-Idaho), ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, today introduced the Biological Weapons Policy Act, a bill to keep Americans safe from the threat of biological weapons, including by increasing scrutiny of research collaboration with malign actors like China.

“The COVID-19 pandemic was a wakeup call – it’s time to take biological threats more seriously,” said Risch. “We need stronger oversight of our collaboration on biological research with countries of concern, including China and Russia. The State Department has called out Russia for its offensive biological weapons program, and noted serious concerns with China’s compliance with the Biological Weapons Convention. We must ensure that our well-intentioned cooperative efforts do not put the United States and our partners at risk.”

This legislation:

  • Strengthens State Department authorities to prevent bioweapons proliferation.
  • Establishes a Country Team Assessment requirement for research cooperation with China, Russia, and other countries of concern to prevent the misuse of life sciences research for military purposes.
  • Prohibits the use of federal funds for gain-of-function research with China and other countries of concern.
  • Mandates a U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) report on how the U.S. government assesses national security, proliferation, and country-specific concerns when considering funding grants for life sciences research with other countries.
  • Mandates the United States use voice, vote, and influence at the United Nations (UN) to bar countries not in compliance with Biological Weapons Convention from assuming leadership positions in specialized UN agencies related to global health.
  • Requires several oversight reports on research collaboration with China on pathogens, viruses, toxins, biotechnology, and synthetic biology.

Text of the legislation can be found here.

On September 9, Risch sent a letter to Comptroller General Gene Dodaro requesting a GAO report on U.S. government oversight of certain federally funded international biological research to ensure potential national security risks to the United States are appropriately considered.

On July 27, Risch sent a letter to President Biden asking the administration to take three crucial steps to get to the bottom of the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic in order to prevent a similar calamity in the future.

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