The Threat of Agro-Terrorism
Ever since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, western governments have become increasingly concerned that terrorists might launch attacks against agriculture or food-processing facilities, with the aim of causing economic damage, generating fear and panic, and undermining public trust in the food supply. The deliberate introduction of a plant or animal pathogen could result in crop failures or require the slaughter of millions of infected livestock, imposing serious hardships on farmers and downstream processors. Alternatively, toxic chemicals or radioactive isotopes might be used to contaminate food and beverages. Such incidents could result in increased food prices and trade embargoes, costing billions of dollars in lost revenue.
Characteristics of agro-terrorism that might make it attractive to terrorists include its relative affordability and technical feasibility, the openness and vulnerability of farming operations, and the ability of agricultural attacks to cause severe disruption and economic damage. The food supply chain has multiple entry points at which terrorists could potentially introduce animal or plant pathogens or chemical contaminants. Possible targets include field crops and livestock, processing and distribution facilities, food products at the wholesale and retail levels, and elements of the transportation infrastructure. In March 2011, for example, a calf’s leg was found in silage being used to feed a group of heifers on a farm in County Armagh in Northern Ireland, an apparent attempt to deliberately infect the cattle herd with brucellosis, a serious veterinary disease.
The U.S. government has addressed the threat of agro-terrorism in documents such as Homeland Security Presidential Directive 9: Defense of United States Agriculture and Food, issued in January 2004.11 The Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Agriculture, and the Food and Drug Administration are jointly responsible for protecting the nation’s agriculture and food supply from both natural and deliberate threats.