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Bioterror in the Heartland: Confronting the Spectre of Agriterrorism

NCJ Number
Intersec: The Journal of International Security Volume: 13 Issue: 9 Dated: September 2003 Pages: 288-291
Barry Zellen
Date Published
September 2003
4 pages
This article discusses the threat of a deliberate attack on America’s food supply.
An attack on a nation’s food supply is called agriterror. The attack could be through the biological infection of its livestock; the contamination of its food processing and distribution systems through exposure of chemical, radiological or biological agents; and/or the physical destruction of its crops through the introduction of pests, destruction of irrigation systems, or the setting of fire. It only takes one precise, symbolic attack on infrastructure to paralyze a country and spread fear. A new research program has been funded to develop technologies and strategies to prevent and minimize potential threats to the safety and security of the Nation’s food supply. Monkeypox, a close but less deadly cousin of smallpox, had its very first outbreak in the Western Hemisphere recently. The monkeypox experience indicates that there still is no rapid communication system to alert physicians and health agencies around the country. Because Congress has not mandated securing America from potential threats, pharmaceutical companies have avoided the necessary investment of time and resources to equip the country with the defensive tools it needs. Project BioShield would allocate funds over 10 years for developing the necessary vaccines and medicines to protect Americans from a bio attack, guaranteeing government purchase of the new biomedical products. The al-Qaeda terror network is keenly interested in bioweapons, referred to as the poor man’s weapons of mass destruction. The five potential targets of agricultural bioterrorism are field crops, farm animals, food items in the processing or distribution chain, market-ready foods at the wholesale or retail level, and agricultural facilities. Twenty States have passed or are considering legislation related to agriterrorism. There is need for Federal interagency cooperation to ensure the security of the food supply. Ways to combat agriterrorism include a handheld “microarray” system that tests for viruses before victims know they are sick; the use of radar to detect bioterror attacks; a data collection tool to detect trends in public health called BioSense; and a national disease surveillance system.