WMD’s found–in China (of course)

There was so much made of the possibility that Iraq had WMD’s that it’s really amazing that no one is making anything at all of WMD’s that have been found in China. But there is one there with some particularly alarming features:

This WMD has:

1. the capability of inflicting millions of dollars of damage to the USA, (and many other countries as well)

2. a delivery system that is within the reach of any government, or any terrorist group of any size. In fact the delivery system is low-tech and low cost, and is within the reach of most U.S. citizens with a passport.

This WMD has NOT:

1. Posed a direct threat to health of humans, as far as we know. But we can’t really be sure.

2. Created a co-ordinated, functioning, international effort to control it.

3. Been subject to substantial coverage in the media, although it has existed for more than a year now.

It seems a new and very deadly disease is spreading among swine in China. It’s decimating herds, and has spread to 25 of China’s 33 provinces. But, other than the fact that is is contagious and has a very high mortality rate, that’s all we know about the disease because China isn’t releasing any samples or detailed information about the disease abroad.

Reminds one very much of their initial secrecy concerning the SARS outbreak, and it would almost seem to be another data point confirming my conjecture that democracy plays both an instrumental and informational role in limiting disease outbreaks. The converse of this is that a society lacking democracy and freedom of the press should be lacking in effective mechanisms to control disease outbreaks.

I recall reading a summary of a Nixon era briefing on bio-weapons, and it is interesting that it focused almost exclusively on threats to crops and livestock, rather than the current obsession with exotic diseases such as the Marburg and Ebola virii (which actually wouldn’t make very good bio-weapons) that would be primarily targeted at people.

So here are the details, courtesy of the NYT

Hat Tip: Global Guerillas:

Virus Spreading Alarm and Pig Disease in China

Published: August 16, 2007

CHENGDU, China, Aug. 9 — A highly infectious swine virus is sweeping China’s pig population, driving up pork prices and creating fears of a global pandemic among domesticated pigs.

Animal virus experts say Chinese authorities are playing down the gravity and spread of the disease.

So far, the mysterious virus — believed to cause an unusually deadly form of an infection known as blue-ear pig disease — has spread to 25 of this country’s 33 provinces and regions, prompting a pork shortage and the strongest inflation in China in a decade.

More than that, China’s past lack of transparency — particularly over what became the SARS epidemic — has created global concern.

It’s really clear that the lack of transparency has created much uncertainty about what is actually happening and what the true extent of it is. At a certain point the doubt has led to panic selling, amplifying the economic effects further:

No one knows for sure how many of this country’s 500 million pigs have been infected. The government says officially that about 165,000 pigs have contracted the virus this year. But in a country that, on average, loses 25 million pigs a year to disease, few believe the figures. In part, the skepticism comes from the fact that pork prices have skyrocketed 85 percent in the last year — an increase that, absent other factors, suggests the losses from disease are more widespread than Beijing admits.

And there are other signs. Field experts are reporting widespread disease outbreaks. Fear among pig farmers that their livestock will contract the disease has led to panic selling. And the government and media here have issued alarming reports that farmers are selling diseased or infected pigs to illegal slaughterhouses, which could pose food safety problems

So, it would be rational for the international community to raise an alarm about this lack of transparency, and begin to penalize China for not releasing samples to the appropriate international organizations.

Will that happen, with all the distractions that have been created by the imagined WMD’s?

WMD’s found–in China (of course)

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