Bangor Daily News owes Winslow company an apology for story on Syria connection

By Frank Sterner, Special to the BDN
Posted Sept. 15, 2013, at 11:22 a.m.

An article published by the BDN on Sept. 9, “Report: Winslow company sold Syria vaccines that were stockpiled as chemical weapon precursor” states that “a Winslow company’s illegal sale of vaccines used on birds in the early 1990s has been linked by the New York Times to past efforts by Syria to build up its chemical weapons program.”

This statement is not only inaccurate but highly inflammatory. The New York Times started this reactionary reporting by linking, inaccurately, an incident that occurred more than 10 years ago regarding the sale of a completely harmless vaccine for poultry with the killing of innocent people by the most atrocious means possible — chemical warfare. This is, in itself, highly detrimental, but to have the local media continue to propagate this misinformation is a gross injustice to the 120-plus Maine people who work at our company as well as the community in which we reside.

The case against Maine Biological Laboratories occurred in 2001 and 2002. It involved four shipments of Inactivated Newcastle Disease virus vaccine for chickens to Syria. This was a regulatory infraction and not a felony. The issue was resolved with the Department of Commerce for a $100,000 fine — $25,000 for each shipment — in 2005.

Neither Maine Biological Laboratories nor Lohmann Animal Health International has sold any product to Syria since 2002. It was not illegal at the time, nor is it now, to sell this vaccine. However, export to Syria required special permits that the company failed to obtain at the time. This was a misinterpretation on the part of the company of a very complex regulation and not a willful illegal act.

The Newcastle Disease vaccine in question contained no living organisms, was sterile, and contained only inactivated antigen and mineral oil. The vaccine is used throughout the United States and most countries around the world that raise poultry to keep them healthy. The vaccine is tested to make sure no live organisms are present. This identical product is manufactured and sold by other vaccine manufacturers around the world as well. There is no possible way anything within the vaccine can be used to produce biological or chemical weapons.

An animal health products distribution company in Syria purchased the inactivated Newcastle Disease vaccine from Maine Biological Laboratories to control the disease in Syria’s poultry flocks. As with any vaccine, its function is to stimulate the production of antibodies and provide immunity against a disease. The inactivated Newcastle Disease Vaccine has been manufactured by Maine Biological Laboratories since the early 1970s and is still sold in more than 70 countries, including the United States.

Lohmann has invested more than $19 million into the Winslow facility in the past five years to make it an internationally recognized manufacturing and research facility that provides high-quality and innovative products to improve animal health and food safety around the world. We also provide Maine with a source of skilled employment and clean manufacturing. The Winslow facility sells 99 percent of its products outside the state and 60 percent of those outside the country, bringing needed revenue to the state and people who work here.

With these facts presented, the sensationalized linking of a successful Maine-based company with dedicated, honest, hardworking employees to chemical or biological warfare is completely unjust and unfounded. It serves no purpose but to create headlines that would sell papers. In the process, our company’s employees, customers and community were damaged.

Due to the Bangor Daily News’ article, violent actions have been suggested against the company. It is well recognized that apologies, retractions and corrections are typically placed on the back page and in small text. However presented, one is most definitely due to Lohmann Animal Health International and its employees.

Frank Sterner is CEO of Lohmann Animal Health International in Winslow.

http://bangordailynews.com/2013/09/15/opinion/contributors/bangor-daily-news-owes-winslow-company-an-apology-for-story-on-syria-connection/ printed on July 31, 2014