In Chapter 2 a differentiation was made between toxins and bioregulators. A poison was defined as a substance that damages health or causes death when introduced into the body of a victim, whereas a toxin was described as a type of poison produced by a living organism. It was suggested that, by definition, a toxin is something that is not a naturally occurring constituent of the body being damaged. It was argued that a bioregulator— which is a naturally occurring constituent of a victim's body—could also be misused, to damage health or cause death by introducing unnatural quantities of it into the body. These straightforward definitions should be kept in mind as we briefly review some of the complex issues that must be considered in arms control negotiations. First, it is worth reiterating that many toxic chemicals manufactured bear no relationship at all to naturally occurring toxins. Books on the treatment of poisoning have numerous chapters (for instance, on the misuse of designer drugs) other than those dealing with natural toxins such as snake venoms (1). So “all toxins are toxic chemicals but all toxic chemicals are not toxins, ” as one commentator wrote, after reviewing numerous definitions (2).
In discussions leading up to the agreement of the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention, Sweden noted in a working paper for the Conference of the Committee on Disarmament in 1971 that the term toxin was often used in a vague manner and thus put forward criteria to be used in any proper definition of a toxin (3). Sweden argued that four factors, or sets of factors, had to be considered: the natural origin or occurrence of the compound; the degree of toxicity, type of toxic activity, and mode of action; the chemical nature of the compound; and chemical operations producing toxins and poisonous substances related to toxins (for example, synthetic, semi-synthetic, or chemically modified). The paper added: “The fact that very toxic compounds of biological origin have important use as medical drugs in small quantities must be recognised and provided for in a treaty” (3).