Experts Warn Of
'Agroterrorism' Threat To US
Livestock and Produce Vulnerable to Disease Attack
Source APB News
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 experts.
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 alarmed.
"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: "agroterrorism."
"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," she said.
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 crops.
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 emergency response.
"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."


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