During the past century, more than 500 million people have died due to infectious diseases. Several tens of thousands of these deaths were due to the deliberate release of pathogens or toxins. Two international treaties outlawed biological weapons in 1925 and 1972. Unfortunately, these treaties have failed to stop countries from conducting offensive weapons research and large-scale production of biological weapons. As our knowledge increases on these disease-causing agents, so does our fear of future threats of biological warfare (Frischknecht, 2003).
Biological warfare can be defined as “living organisms or infected material derived from them, which are used for hostile purposes and intended to cause disease or death in man, animals, and plants, and which depend for their efforts on the ability to multiply in the person, animal, or plant attacked” (Beeching, Dance, Miller, & Spencer, 2002). These agents have a huge impact on agriculture and on human health.
History of biological warfare programs
Since the beginning of civilization, poisons have been used for assassination purposes. The foundation of microbiology allowed those who were interested in biological weapons, to chose and design different biological agents. The potential dangers of these agents were soon recognized and resulted in two international declarations that prohibited the use of poisoned weapons. These treaties, however, contained no means of control and therefore, interested parties were developing and using biological weapons that we can see illustrated by the German army in the First World War. The German army was the first to use biological and chemical weapons, attempting to infect animals directly and to contaminate animal feed in their enemies’ countries. After the war, various countries formed their own biological warfare programs, including Africa (Frischknecht, 2003).
Widespread evidence emerged of the effectiveness of biological warfare as early as the 1930s and the South African scientific and military communities kept pace with these developments. In the 1940s, South Africa produced mustard gas for possible use in WWII. In the 1940s and 1950s, South Africa had already formed connections with Britain and the United States. South African officers were training in Britain and the United States in chemical and biological warfare strategy and tactics. In 1960, Dr. Vernon Joynt started a new phase of the chemical warfare program that worked with tear gas to control riots and deal with militants. Dr. Joynt also worked with Cessna Aircraft that were used by South African Defense Forces (SADF) in spreading CX powder. The Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) worked on mustard gas and on gas masks for the SADF (Burgess & Purkitt, 2001).
In the mid-1960s South African leaders realized the effectiveness and the importance of updating their own chemical biological warfare programs. The EMAC (electrical, mechanical, agricultural, and chemical)...