Q. What is agroterrorism? Any attempt to shake the confidence of the
Agroterrorism is a subset of the greater threats of terrorism and bioterrorism, adds Jaxx. “It would be loosely defined as a threat to our agricultural infrastructure.” Certainly, when people consider agroterrorism, many are concerned about biological agents that would affect either plants, animals or foods.
“I would look at agroterrorism as the traditional terrorist assault against the agricultural and food delivery and service infrastructure,” notes Kastner. But it doesn't have to be just what would be classified as the traditional terrorist, it could be a disgruntled employee.
“First let me start with agrosecurity, which is the concept of protecting
Q. Is it a real or perceived threat? “I'd say it is a real concern,” says Fox. It's something that is being taken very seriously. It's something that a lot of money and effort is being put into to design countermeasures against it happening and to deal with it if it does happen. The country really hasn't had any instances of it yet. There probably is plenty of potential there for somebody to do something if they wanted to, but it hasn't happened yet.
“I think the potential is certainly real,” Jaax says. There is ample evidence that state-sponsored offensive biowarfare programs flourished during the Cold War, and that agricultural agents were part of those programs. “Can we say with certainty that something is going to happen?” he asks? “No, I don't think we can predict whether or not we're going to have a serious or significant agroterrorism event. I think it is virtually inevitable that we will have other bioterrorist events.” Whether or not they would have more of an effect on public or human health rather than agricultural infrastructure is unpredictable. “I don't think that there is any doubt that we are going to have continuing concerns about bio/agroterrorism,” he adds
“I think it is real and something that could happen; probably has and we may or may not have identified it as such,” notes Kastner. “We've had salad bars tainted with salmonella, so that is a possibility. Can it happen?
“Yes it can happen,” he adds. What would be the most logical outcome of it? It might be that if the infrastructure or the outputs of the food supply is attacked, it might result in a number of human casualties, but it doesn't have to have a significant impact. Because if the consumer no longer has confidence in the food supply then you don't sell your products and you don't export; you don't sell them domestically or internationally.
“I think personally that the economic implications would be very significant and could happen very easily,” Kastner continues.
Some of those things can happen intentionally and they would be classified as an act of terrorism, but it could also happen accidentally. Foot and mouth disease could get here just by somebody making a mistake or we could have a natural disaster like hurricanes and that could significantly impact the livestock industry.
“I think it is a real threat,” says McClaskey. “I spent some time over the last year in a couple of on-line classes with the majority of the students not being from any agricultural background or having very little exposure to the
Agricultural terrorism is totally different. Many of the agents that you might want to get your hands on are fairly easy to get across the world, they are fairly easy to disseminate and you can do it without risk to your own self or while being able to protect the people you represent or the group you are a part of.
“I think it's very real; I think the risk is more real than people think,” McClaskey says. “However, at the same time I think we have to be careful not to make it sound like it's going to happen tomorrow; that every farm in the country is going to be impacted. I also think that that's probably unreal as well and that if we make it sound bigger than it is then no one is going to understand that it is a risk because they're just going to think it is blown out of proportion.”
Q. How much of an economic impact could an act of agroterrorism have? That would depend on what happened, says Fox. The agricultural industry is a multi-billion dollar industry so the financial impact on the
“We've already taken whatever hits we are going to take on bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE),” he adds.
I think it is safe to say that an agroterrorism event, using the right kinds of organisms, could have a billion-dollar impact very, very quickly, agrees Jaax
Several years ago there was a rumor of a foot-and-mouth disease outbreak in
“I think that is a very significant example as to how vulnerable our markets would be,” he adds.
Researchers at the University of California-Davis have done a study on the potential impact of foot-and-mouth disease and concluded that if foot-and-mouth disease broke out in the central valley in
Economists have said that if foot-and-mouth disease were introduced into the dairy industry in
The economic impact is the part that we sometimes have a tendency to overlook, concludes McClaskey. “My interest in biosecurity and agricultural terrorism stems from the concept that any aspect of agricultural security or agricultural terrorism is multi-pronged. There is the science impact, the public health impact, the animal health impact, the environmental impact and the economic impact. A lot of times when you see people look at these issues, they only look at one issue or another. They only look at what's the public health impact or what's the animal health impact or what's the economic impact.”