Bioterrorism and Agriculture in the U. S.
Livestock Update, January 2003
Ben Dorsey and C. M. Wood, VA Tech
The fall of the Soviet Union in 1991 and the end of the cold war brought a sense of relief to the United States and the entire world. However, a new threat has risen: terrorism on our home soil and abroad (Franz, 2002). This threat became real to all Americans on September 11, 2002. One facet of terrorism is bioterrorism, the use of living organisms or inanimate by-products of living organisms (toxins) to cause harm to humans, plants or animals (Runyon, 2002). The impact of a bioterrorism attack would not only be life threatening to humans but also to the economy of the United States. For example, agriculture provides 13.1% of the United States gross domestic product and $140 billion in revenue (Runyon, 2002).
Some of the toxins and pathogens that could be used for bioterrorism include anthrax, wheat stem rust, rice blast fungus, rinderspest, foot and mouth disease, African swine fever, and camel pox. These toxins are of interest to terrorists because they are fairly simple to produce and are more widely available than nuclear or chemical weapons (Runyon, 2002). The Soviet Union's collapse has given terrorists another potential source to obtain these bioterrorism weapons due to its economy being in upheaval and reduced internal security (Lemonick, 2002).
Preparedness is essential for fighting terrorism. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has received an additional $328 million from the Bush Administration for homeland security protections and is requesting a $143 million increase for the year 2003. These added funds will allow for more than 7,500 food safety inspectors and 4,000 port of entry inspectors (USDA, 2002).
Individuals in the agricultural industry such as producers and veterinarians should remain vigilant against suspicious activity because they could be the first line of defense in a terrorist attack. Producers should take measures for preparedness on the farm. Biosecurity should be maintained to reduce the risk of disease introduction. Employees should be alert for tampering of any kind with crops, livestock, and facilities. Hazardous materials should be locked away. Law enforcement telephone numbers should be easily accessible. Water sources should be kept secure and background checks should be done on all employees (FDA, 2002).
The response to a terrorist attack depends on rapid detection. The USDA has a number of offices active in food safety such as the Food Safety and Inspection Service. It works with the Homeland Security Office to provide the Food Emergency Response and Evaluation Team. Other agencies are also receiving training, and may be called upon to assist the USDA in decontamination, slaughtering affected livestock, and maintaining public order in the event of a bioterrorist attack (USDA, 2002).
The threat of biological terrorism against agriculture and public health is real. Vigilance, preparation, and rapid response are vital for the defense of the agricultural industry and the national security of the United States. The United States must be protected from a wide range of toxins and chemical agents. Investment in national defense and preparedness acts as a deterrent against these hostile acts (USCDC, 2002).
FDA. 2002. Food and Drug Administration home page. Available at: http://www.cfsan.fda.gov/^dms/secguid.htm. Accessed Nov. 8, 2002.
Franz, D.R. 2002. Current thought on bioterrorism: The threat, preparedness and response. J. Anim. Sci. 80(Suppl.1):77 (Abstr.).
Lemonick, M.D. 2002. Bioterrorism: the next threat? Time. Available at: http://www.time.com/time/nation/article/0,8599,176066,00.html. Accessed Nov. 8, 2002.
Runyon, C.L. 2002. Agriculture terrorism: a threat to food security. Nat'l. Conf. of State Legislatures. Available at: http://www.ncsl.org/public/LEGIS1026.htm. Accessed Nov. 8, 2002.
USCDC. 2002. United States Center for Disease Control home page. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtm/rr4904al.htm. Accessed Nov. 8, 2002.
USDA. 2002. United States Department of Agriculture home page. Available at: http://www.aphis.usda.gov/oa/fmd/fmdbiose.html. Accessed Nov. 8, 2002.