The arrest in London on Sunday morning of seven people for the manufacture of ricin, under the Terrorism Act 2000, highlights weaknesses in the government's plans to roll existing agencies, including the internationally respected Public Health Laboratory Service, into a new Health Protection Agency.

An HPA document leaked to The Scientist by the Conservative Party warns that the strategy of amalgamating the various agencies currently charged with protecting public health carries with it intrinsic risks. At least in the short term, the new setup would be poorly equipped to cope with a major emergency, such as a deliberately released bio-agent.

The paper states, "It seems inevitable if the timetable of 1st April 2003 for the HPA is to be delivered, some level of risk will have to be tolerated. Were there to be a severe external challenge over the next few months, such as deliberate release,...

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