Do we want the bio-terror threat managed by faceless men?

A cracking story and an important warning against the privatisation of the most delicate of tasks:

Fears about bioterrorism have prompted new efforts by corporations and governments worldwide to build defenses against germ attacks. But some of these arrangements themselves raise security issues.

Consider the spirited global contest to corner the franchise on providing halal inoculations against anthrax and other deadly pathogens to the world’s 1.7 billion Muslims.

Devout Muslims have an understandable aversion to being injected with vaccines grown in pig cells or alcohol, the methods traditionally used by the world’s leading pharmaceutical firms to manufacture such drugs. The reluctance of Muslims to accept non-halal polio injections has been linked to the re-emergence of polio in 27 countries that had been free of the debilitating disease, including Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Enter Emergent BioSolutions, a Rockville, Md., firm with expanding multinational operations that sells a vaccine against anthrax to the U.S. government.

In January 2008, in a little-noticed deal, Emergent, or EBS, announced a joint venture with a firm funded by the Malaysian Health Ministry to build 52,000 square feet of “vaccine development and manufacturing infrastructure” on a 62-acre site in an industrial park just outside of Kuala Lumpur.