- ALBUQUERQUE, N.M.
(AP) -- Terrorists who want to create economic chaos in the United States
could try to sneak foot-and-mouth disease into the nation's livestock yards
or bomb cornfields with blight instead of using car bombs to inflict human
carnage, according to members of Congress who've talked with agriculture
- That's the picture being painted in recent weeks for
people such as U.S. Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., and New Mexico Land Commissioner
Ray Powell. Agricultural experts are telling them it's only a matter of
time before terrorists try to wreck the country's food and fiber business.
- Despite expert testimony, Bingaman said he's not unduly
- "The testimony raised a lot of questions in my mind
about how real the threat is," Bingaman said in a telephone interview.
"It was interesting, but I don't think the answers we got were conclusive."
- 'Scared the bejabbers out of us'
- Nonetheless, there's a newly coined word for the threat:
- "When we heard about this, it just scared the bejabbers
out of us," said Powell, recently returned from the Foreign Animal
and Poultry Disease Advisory Committee's annual meeting. "I was unaware
of the severity of the threat, or of the potential for this happening."
- Terrorists lugging lunch coolers into the darkness near
a giant Midwestern feedlot could easily swab the muzzles of a dozen steers
with the contagious foot-and-mouth disease, the experts are saying.
- Cattle feedlots and hog and chicken farms are easily
accessible and often contain large numbers of animals, said agroterrorism
expert and veterinary pathologist Corrie Brown of the University of Georgia,
who testified at a subcommittee hearing attended by Bingaman.
- "We are sitting ducks for agricultural terrorism,"
- Epidemic would be costly
- For starters, Brown said, an outbreak of foot-and-mouth
disease or other diseases not frequently found in the United States could
cost an estimated $27 billion in lost exports. Even if the prognosis for
halting the disease was good, foreign countries would quickly slam the
door on imports.
- Another scenario the experts talk about could threaten
- An airliner with pods of corn seed blight could fly over
the nation's Corn Belt, spraying spores across wide swaths of countryside.
The blight would be present in the soil when spring planting occurs.
- If the resulting harvest is 30 percent below expected
levels, the United States would be forced to import corn for the first
time. Food prices would rise sharply, causing inflation. The U.S. agricultural
reputation would be seriously damaged, and consumers would see price hikes
for all kinds of corn-enhanced products.
- USDA in charge of response
- And while it hasn't happened, experts already are calling
it an insidious and subtle form of terrorism.
- Jeff Witte, assistant director for the New Mexico Department
of Agriculture, said the response to such an attack on state crops would
likely be led by the USDA.
- The state agriculture department has not drawn up an
- "Crops are different from livestock," Witte
said. "Any disease that shows up would probably be handled by the
plant protection and quarantine division of USDA."