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Bioterrorism: A Threat to Agriculture and Food Supply

NCJ Number
203255
Author(s)
Lawrence J. Dyckman
Date Published
November 2003
Length
19 pages
Annotation
This document discusses the results of four recent General Accounting Office (GAO) reports on the potential vulnerabilities of the food supply and protecting the agriculture sector.
Abstract
Bioterrorism attacks could be directed at many different targets in the farm-to-table food continuum. It is believed that terrorists would attack livestock and crops if their primary intent was to cause severe economic dislocation. The United States agriculture sector accounts for about 13 percent of the gross domestic product and 18 percent of domestic employment. Terrorists could contaminate finished food products if harm to humans was their motive. The GAO reports found gaps in Federal controls for protecting agriculture and the food supply. The United States would be vulnerable to deliberate efforts to undermine its agriculture industries, deliberate tampering of food during production, and the release of deadly animal diseases, some of which also affect humans. Border inspectors were not provided guidance on foot-and-mouth disease prevention activities in response to the 2001 European outbreak, inspection resources could not handle the magnitude of international passengers and cargo, and new technology used to scan shipments at a bulk mail facility was operating only part-time and in only that facility. GAO also found that Federal overseers did not have clear authority to impose requirements on food processors to ensure security at those facilities. GAO found security problems at Plum Island, a large government-operated animal disease research facility. GAO found that scientists from other countries, facility workers, and students had access to areas containing high-risk pathogens without having completed background checks and the required escorts. The reports included recommendations to (1) strengthen import checks for detecting mad cow and foot-and-mouth diseases and to address security matters at food processors; (2) strengthen enforcement of the feed ban; and (3) correct security deficiencies at Plum Island. 5 footnotes