The federal government is not efficiently managing or utilizing resources in the defense of the nation’s food system, according to a new Government Accountability Office report, released on the heels of the 10th anniversary of Sept. 11.
In the wake of the terrorist attacks in 2001, President Bush and Congress launched policies aimed a protecting the food supply from a potential terrorist attack, but according GAO, the government is not coordinating the billions of dollars used for food defense.
“There is no centralized coordination to oversee the federal government’s overall progress implementing the nation’s food and agriculture defense policy,” said Lisa Shames, GAO’s director of Natural Resources and the Environment, in her testimony before the Senate.
“Because there is currently no centralized coordination… it is unclear how effectively or efficiently agencies are using resources in implementing the nation’s food and agriculture defense policy,” added Shames. “As a result, the nation may not be assured that crosscutting agency efforts to protect agriculture and the food supply are well-designed and effectively implemented in order to reduce vulnerability to, and the impact of, terrorist attacks, major disasters, and other emergencies.”
“We may be blindsided by an intentional food-based attack on this nation sometime soon,” said John Hoffman, a former Department of Homeland Security senior adviser, at a Senate hearing this week. “The unfortunate truth is that we, as a nation, lack effective surveillance … At present, our primary detection capability is the emergency room.”
The U.S. Agriculture sector produces about $300 billion worth of food and other farm products annually and is estimated to be responsible for 1 out of every 12 U.S. jobs, according to GAO.
According to the report, the lack of coordination means that “any natural or deliberate disruption of the agriculture or food production systems including natural disasters, disease outbreaks, and food contamination–can present a serious threat to the national economy and human health and can halt or slow trade.”
An overview of the Senate hearing and links to expert testimony can be found on the committee’s website here.