Confidence-Building Measure F

Form Declaration

F: Nothing new to declare, year of last declaration is 2011

Declaration of past activities in offensive and/or defensive biological research and development programmes

1. Date of entry into force of the Convention for the State Party
26 March 1975
2. Past offensive biological research and development programmes
Period(s) of activities

The UK had a modest programme to provide a capability to retaliate in kind should UK force be attacked by BW which started in 1940 and ceased in the late 1950s.

Summary of the research and development activities indicating whether work was performed concerning production, test and evaluation, weaponization, stockpiling of biological agents, the destruction programme of such agents and weapons, and other related research.

Previous submission (2011, covering data for 2010):

Updated Information:

The UK provided information on its past offensive programme in 1992. Since that point the CBM F has not been updated. In the past year information has become available, as part of regular reviews of retained files held at The National Archives, which reveals some experimental work on anti-livestock biological warfare, which has not been previously acknowledged in the UK’s CBM submissions. The UK is therefore taking this opportunity to update the information provided in its CBM Form F. Our original Form F is being reproduced in this year’s return.

The Porton Experiments Sub-Committee was established in September 1940 as a sub-committee of the War Cabinet to investigate the feasibility of the means of biological warfare. Until then there had been no systematic scientific investigation in the UK into offensive and defensive biological warfare. Those engaged in UK efforts worked from the assumption that only by a full examination of the methods of attack would it be possible to develop effective means of defence.  Work started at Porton Down within the Chemical Defence Experimental Station (CDES) in November 1940 to assess the feasibility of BW, to define the necessary defensive measures and to acquire the means to retaliate in kind in the event of use of BW against the UK or its allies. 

As part of this work in January 1941, the UK noted the possibilities for attacks on livestock using saboteurs and aircraft as the means of delivery of the causative agents. At the then current state of knowledge of human and animal diseases, it was believed that the spreading of the latter appeared to be the more formidable weapon. It was subsequently proposed that preparatory measures for retaliation with animal diseases should be initiated or continued by the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries at its Weybridge and Pirbright stations or elsewhere.[1] The diseases under investigation were Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD), Rinderpest, Glanders and Swine Fever. 

Experiments were conducted in 1941 and 1942 to test the survival of Swine Fever virus on certain foodstuffs, particularly cakelets, and when sprayed on grass. Similar programmes were undertaken for FMDV and Rinderpest virus. Research was also done to investigate defensive measures against these agents. Work on glanders involved some initial studies on virulence, growth and survival of the causative agent, as well as defensive measures.

It seems that no further progress was made on developing these agents into practical weapons in the 1940 to 1942 period. Although experimental work with FMDV and Rinderpest virus in cattle cakes was undertaken, no evidence has been found to indicate that there were any stockpiles produced to match the anthrax charged cattle cakes, which were the sole means of providing a BW retaliatory capability during the Second World War.


United Kingdom concern about the possible future menace of the use of biological weapons (BW) began in the 1920s and continued through the 1930s with the establishment in 1936 of a sub-committee of the Committee for Imperial Defence, with a mandate “to report on the practicality of the introduction of bacteriological warfare and to make recommendations on the countermeasures which should be taken to deal with such an eventuality.” This led to the establishment in 1940 of the Biology Department, Porton (BDP).

From 1940 to 1946 the UK focus for BW studies was the Biology Department, Porton (BDP) which though located within the then Chemical Defence Experimental Station was a small autonomous organisation (up to about 45 people at its largest) set up to assess the feasibility of BW, to define the necessary defensive measures and to acquire the means to retaliate in kind in the event of use of BW against the UK or its allies. The latter part of this mandate involved carrying out trials using anthrax spores disseminated from bombs on Gruinard Island in 1942 and 1943. The success in demonstrating this method of release of spores was followed by the start of a conjoint United Kingdom, United States and Canadian development of a retaliatory capability based on cluster bombs with anthrax charged munitions, the so called N-bomb project. This project had not come to fruition by the end of the war, and the War Cabinet’s requirement for a retaliatory capability in World War II was fulfilled by the development of a modest anti-livestock aircraft-delivered BW capability based on anthrax spores in cattle cakes. A stockpile of 5,000,000 cattle cakes was produced by BDP in 1942-3 and was stored at Porton. This weapon was never employed.

In the immediate post-war period the cattle cake stockpile was destroyed by autoclaving and burning; a few cardboard boxes each holding 400 cakes were retained as curiosities in the culture collection of the then Microbiological Research Establishment (MRE) at Porton until they were destroyed in 1972 at the time of the signature of the Biological Weapons Convention.

Whilst some research on offensive aspects continued for a few years after World War II, by 1957 the UK had abandoned work on an offensive capability. Subsequent work was on biological defence and included assessment of hazards should BW be used against the UK.

[1] Pirbright in Surrey was the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries’ Foot and Mouth Disease Research Station. Weybridge, also in Surrey, was the Ministry’s Veterinary Laboratory.

3. Past defensive biological research and development programmes
Period(s) of activities

1940 - Present

Summary of the research and development activities indicating whether or not work was conducted in the following areas: prophylaxis, studies on pathogenicity and virulence, diagnostic techniques, aerobiology, detection, treatment, toxinology, physical protection, decontamination, and other related research, with location if possible

BW defence was pursued from 1940 by BDP, notably in evaluation of respiratory protection, immunisation, anti-biotic therapy, and decontamination. By 1946 the BDP had become the Microbiological Research Department (MRD). In 1951 the MRD moved to a separate building in from within what had now become the Chemical Defence Experimental Establishment (CDEE). It was still known as MRD until 1957 when it became the Microbiological Research Establishment (MRE), under which title it continued until 1979.

Defensive studies were carried on from 1946 at MRD and then at MRE. The programme involved work on pathogenicity and virulence, aerobiology and experimental inhalation infection, detection and warning of BW aerosols, rapid identification of BW agents and rapid diagnosis of infectious diseases, prophylaxis, toxins, physical protection for individual and collective use, and decontamination. Most of this work was done at Porton but in the period 1948-1955 field trials with pathogens were performed on the high seas off the Bahamas and off the Scottish coast, initially to determine the feasibility of conducting trials at sea and latterly to acquire data on the behaviour of microbial aerosols under realistic conditions. Although such work was begun during the period when offensively motivated R&D was also being pursued, the data acquired was relevant to defence.

In the late 1960s and 1970s the proportion of MRE effort devoted to BW defence was gradually reduced as a result of reductions in defence funding offset by increases in civil research and microbiology. In the late 1970s it was decided that BW defence should be carried out at the then Chemical Defence Establishment (CDE) on a much reduced scale, resulting in defence sector economies and benefits from the wholesale commitment of MRE to public health microbiology. MRE was transferred to the Public Health Laboratory Service of the Department of Health in 1979. It is now the Centre for Applied Microbiology and Research in the Public Health Service. Accordingly, on 1 April 1979, a new Defence Microbiology Division (DMD) was set up within CDE as the focus of UK research on BW defence. The impact of genetic engineering, molecular biology, and biotechnology began to be felt in the early 1980s and has been highlighted in the UK papers submitted to all three Review Conferences of the Convention. These scientific and technological developments brought about a reassessment of the potential hazard posed by living biological and toxin weapons to the UK Armed Forces, and of continuing progress towards better detection and protection. In the latter areas it was recognised that the emerging biological technologies would make a significant contribution within the integrated research programme of CDE to counter the CBW threat. In April 1991, CDE was renamed the Chemical and Biological Defence Establishment (CBDE) to reflect more accurately the scope of the Establishment’s work.