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Food, agricultural events could get agro-terrorism treatment

Agro-terrorism, which has been around as a fear since 9/11, is getting new attention with the introduction in Congress of the Securing our Agriculture and Food Act.

Text of the bill is not yet available, but it is said to include high-risk events involving food, agriculture and livestock. It was jointly introduced into the House and Senate earlier this week by a bipartisan group of lawmakers including some agricultural leaders.

Agro-terrorism risks have brought legislative reaction previously. It’s the reason food production facilities have had to register since 2002, and it’s the reason for the food defense rule in the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA).

NBAF_406x250Although there’s been no agro-terrorism since 9/11, the FBI does identify the potential threats that have not gone away. They include international terrorism groups like al Qaeda and ISIL; economic opportunists who might want to manipulate markets for personal gain; domestic groups including disgruntled employees; or militant animal rights groups or other domestic groups.

The Securing our Agriculture and Food Act was introduced by Senate Agriculture Committee leaders, Chairman Pat Roberts, R-KS, and Ranking Member Claire McCaskill, D-MO, and in the House by Reps. David Young, R-IA; Donald Payne, Jr. D-NJ and Dan Donovan, R-NY.

“Our nation faces global and complex national security challenges,” the sponsors said in a joint statement. “Agro-terrorism and other high risk events, pose serious threats to our food, agriculture and livestock industries across the United States. It’s imperative we have preparedness policies in place to quickly respond to events threatening U.S. agriculture or food production systems — ultimately protecting key industries which impact Americans on a daily basis.”

They say their bill authorizes the Secretary of Agriculture — a post that remains unfilled because the Senate has not confirmed President Trump’s appointment of former Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue to the position — to collaborate with other agencies “to ensure food, agriculture and animal and human health sectors receive attention and are integrated into the DHS (Department of Homeland Security) domestic preparedness policy initiatives.”

For his part, Roberts mentioned being specifically concerned about the DHS National Bio and Agro defense Facility being construction in Manhattan, KS, which will replace the former USDA bio-research facility at Plum Island, NY. It was the site of USDA animal disease research going back a half century,

Roberts says “now is the exact time” to shore up the coordination and mitigation “should the worst occur and he nation is hit by a biological attack on our food and agriculture.” He said the spread of “any deadly pathogen among our livestock and plant population would cause irreparable damage.”

The U.S. food and agriculture industry manages to spread enough deadly pathogens in the food supply without help from terrorists to sicken 48 million people annually, sending 128,000 to hospitals and causing illnesses that result in 3,000 deaths, according to estimates by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

When those annual CDC estimates are extended over the years since 9/11, foodborne illnesses can be accurately blamed for about 48,000 deaths and more than 2 million hospitalizations. Since 9/11 everybody in the country was probably subjected to foodborne illness at least twice.

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