Terrorism Down on the Farm

October 17, 2001

 


Amid the torrent of terrorism news, one angle that's been overlooked is agroterrorism -- using biological agents as weapons against crops or livestock. Anthrax is just one of a vast array of nasty bugs that could wreak havoc with the food supply and agribusiness. Also, crop dusters could be used to harm crops as well as people.

On Oct. 1, 2001, experts at a Jane's Information Group conference on agroterrorism said that in the US, this threat has scarcely been assessed, and would be difficult to avert. Jane's conference infoRelated Feb. 9, 2001 articleMelissa Golding (PR): 703-236-2467.

An agroterrorism incident would resemble a natural outbreak of disease or blight -- except that the event probably would be timed for maximum damage, most likely at the beginning or middle of the growing/grazing season (rather than at harvest time). Much of the info in Tipsheet's May 2, 2001, backgrounder on foot-and-mouth disease would be relevant to possible agroterrorism coverage.

The main impact of agroterrorism probably would be economic -- but zoonotic (animal-borne) agents can sicken both livestock and humans. Quarantines and carcass or crop destruction can present environmental concerns. Also, biodiversity has been steadily decreasing in US agriculture, increasing the risk exposure for disease.

In the event of an agroterrorist incident, USDA's Animal & Plant Health Inspection Service would be the key responding agency. APHIS public affairs: Jim Rogers, 301-734-8563.

On Oct. 2, 2001, the American Farm Bureau asked President Bush to appoint an agroterrorism specialist within the new Office of Homeland Security. Mace Thornton (847-685-8755) or Christopher Noun (202-484-3612). News release.

LOCAL EXPERTS: USDA's Extension Disaster Education Network (EDEN) has experts around the country. Find a nearby disaster specialist. Orfind your local agriculture extension service agent. Diagnostic centers at land grant universities would be involved in detection efforts. For additional experts and local contacts, ask Steve Cain, Purdue Univ.: 765-494-8410.

BILLS TO WATCH: In committee in Congress right now is HR 2060, the Agroterrorism Prevention Act of 2001. In July 2001, that bill's sponsor, Rep. George Nethercutt (R-WA), also claimed that the forthcoming 2002 Farm Bill (HR 2646, sent to the Senate Oct. 9) will address agroterrorism. Joy King: 202-225-2006.

BEST RESOURCE: Humanitarian Resource Inst.: Agroterrorism Information Resource and Biodefense Reference LibraryStephen Apatow: 203-