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Dutch Government OK's Publication of H5N1 Study

AMSTERDAM—The Dutch government has given virologist Ron Fouchier of Erasmus MC an export license for his controversial H5N1 transmissibility study, allowing Fouchier to send a revised manuscript of his paper to Science.

The license "is in my inbox," says Fouchier. "Now we can move on."

The decision by Henk Bleker, minister for agriculture and foreign trade, was announced this afternoon in a press release (Dutch) posted on the ministry's Web site. It comes 4 days after a closed meeting in The Hague, where government officials discussed the risks and benefits of the research with an international group of scientists and security experts. According to today's statement:

Minister Bleker has weighed all of the benefits and risks of publication of the avian influenza research, and has especially looked at the freedom of research and publication, health, and safety. He has also taken into consideration insights from national and international experts in the areas of security, health, and research; the positive advice of the U.S. National Science Advisory Board on Biosecurity [NSABB] to the U.S. government about publication of the research; and the U.S. government's decision to follow that advice.

Fouchier had been fiercely opposed to applying for an export license, which he says is an inappropriate tool to control the flow of scientific information. He eventually filed for the permit while disputing the obligation to do so.

Fouchier says he's "glad but not surprised" by the decision. "It would have been strange" if the government had held up publication after NSABB and an expert panel at the World Health Organization recommended publication, says Fouchier. The Rotterdam lab will not break out the champagne until the paper actually comes out, he says. "Then we'll throw a party."

Bleker also sent a letter to the Dutch House of Representatives today (Dutch) in which he promised to inform the House about the outcomes of Monday's meeting no later than 16 May.