Since 2005, I have had the opportunity to attend four conferences on agroterrorism sponsored by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
They are serious affairs, considering the subject matter. I think back to the time someone showed a simulation model of how fast a certain infectious animal disease would spread within the state of Iowa. Or the time I sat near a person who was wearing a gun holster. Or the Japanese military officer (dressed in full uniform) who came and spoke on the all-out emergency response his country waged against foot and mouth disease in 2010.
Needless to say, I am primed on the subject of foreign animal diseases and the need for vigilance.
It’s been hard to watch the political haggling that is taking place over the proposed National Bio- and Agro-Defense Facility (NBAF) in Manhattan, Kan. The Obama Administration wants to reassess the cost and scope of the project and Congress has been slow to approve funding.
I suggest that members of the Administration and Congress attend one of the FBI conferences. The one U.S. Senator who does come to these conferences and seems to comprehend the threat is Pat Roberts of Kansas.
An intentional attack on the food supply could cost billions of dollars and undermine public confidence. The psychological effect would be huge.
“If you think oil shortages can cre ate problems, wait until it’s food,” Ron Trewyn, vice president of research at Kansas State University, told those attending the most recent conference in April 2011.
Trewyn went on to describe plans for the NBAF, and I was comforted to know that a state-of-the-art facility would be built to address agroterrorism threats. Through artist renditions, I got to see what the facility would look like and was impressed by the multiple layers of security. My only regret was that the facility would not be fully operational until 2018. “We need it sooner,” I thought to myself.
Because the facility would deal with dangerous disease-causing pathogens, some have questioned the facility’s ability to withstand a major natural disaster such as an earthquake or tornado.
But Trewyn recently came out and said the chance of an accidental release of dangerous pathogens is “less than 0.11 percent (including events such as earthquakes and tornados) and less than 0.008 percent when catastrophic events are excluded.”
The need is there — and a plan in place to address it! It is time that the Obama Administration and Congress start paying attention to the threat and back it up with a solid commitment to the NBAF.