Bioterror threatens
U.S. food supplies

By WND Staff

WASHINGTON – A major bioterror attack on U.S. agriculture could result in deaths, a disruption of the economy and panic among the public, warns a new report by the National Research Council.

The report, commissioned at the request of the U.S. Department of Agriculture prior to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, finds the nation cannot detect and identify many pests and pathogens and needs a comprehensive plan to defend against attacks with biological weapons.

A large-scale agricultural bioterrorism attack would quickly overwhelm existing laboratory and field resources, warns the report, first reported on by Environment News Service.

“Biological agents that could be used to harm crops or livestock are widely available and pose a major threat to U.S. agriculture,” said Harley Moon, a professor of veterinary medicine at Iowa State University, Ames, and chairman of the 12-member committee that wrote the report. “Part of the plan to defend against agricultural bio-terrorism should be to enhance our basic understanding of the biology of pests and pathogens so we can develop new tools for surveillance and new ways to control an outbreak,” Moon added.

The Sept. 11 terrorist assaults and anthrax attacks that followed showed that “bio-terrorism is now a reality,” the report explained.

The committee could not find, as of last spring, any publicly available in-depth national plan to defend against the deliberate introduction of biological agents in an act of terror.

A comprehensive plan to counter agricultural bioterrorism should define the role each federal and state agency will play in preventing and responding to an attack and how they will cooperate with one another, the report adds.

The committee also said that significant gaps exist in U.S. knowledge about foreign pests and pathogens. The agencies involved should develop a consensus list of biological agents that could potentially be used in an attack, the report concludes.

Besides the threats posed by well-known diseases such as anthrax and mad cow, there are a host of little-known pathogens that, while not as directly dangerous to humans, could devastate the U.S. economically and threaten the food supply, the report notes.

Early detection is key to stopping the spread of an agricultural bioterror attack, the committee stressed.

The report’s sponsors briefed the Office of Homeland Security and USDA on the report’s preliminary findings and conclusions. The report also was submitted to the USDA and the Office of Homeland Security for a classification review.

“USDA has identified a priority list of threat agents and provided resources to increase research in this area,” said Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman in response to the report, adding that the agency is working to strengthen its laboratory network to help detect bio-terror agents. “USDA has been working with other federal agencies in conducting various interagency, intergovernmental exercises to further test our systems. A comprehensive exercise will take place later this month in a continued effort to strengthen this type of planning and coordination.”

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