Bioterrorism Threats Fuel Food Defense at the Federal Level

All this did to the plants that already had a plant security program in place was to have their regulatory essayist tap their delete button and type in “food defense” into their existing programs. For plants that didn’t have a food defense program in place, it should be a neon caveat for them to wake up and acknowledge that there exists, both domestically and internationally, a mushrooming insatiable 21st Century malediction that knows no boundaries: Terrorism.

The terms security and defense will pop up in any thesaurus as close synonyms. Food safety refers to guarding against the unintentional contamination of food, whereas food security and/or defense, involves safeguarding the food supply against premeditated acts of contamination.

America’s food supply continues to be highly susceptible to bioterrorism for a variety of reasons. A majority of the agricultural industries are highly concentrated to single-species, i.e. livestock feedlots, poultry houses, major food processing and distribution centers. This makes it rather easy for contamination and infection to spread quickly.

In addition, vertical integration of these industries also facilitates the geographical spread of contamination. Factor in the highly political and controversial issue concerning undocumented workers, many of whom are employed by food industries, susceptibility is exponentially amplified.

Threats to our food supply have potentially dire economic, health, societal, political and psychological implications. Calculated contamination of the food supply would connote significant public health consequences and widespread public panic. It would likely have a devastating impact to the economy compounded with the loss of hard-earned public confidence of the safety of our foods, including the efficacy of the government agencies assigned to protect it.

The nefarious events of 9/11, the ensuing anthrax incidents and the interminable zeitgeist tone of today’s current events continue to raise concerns of terrorists attacks to our food supply. These events have heightened international awareness that any country could become targets for biological, chemical, physical and radiological terrorism.

The World Health Organization addresses it this way: “Food is the most vulnerable to intentional contamination by debilitating or lethal agents. The diversity of sources of foods, including the global market, makes prevention difficult, if not impossible. In fact food offers the perfect vehicle for large-scale terrorist attacks.”

The year 2006 marks the FSIS Centennial. In that time, the FSIS has developed and put into place federal regulations for safe food and, most recently, food defense. The FSIS has more than 7,600 inspectors and veterinarians assigned to meat, poultry and egg plants, including ports-of-entry to obviate, detect and act in response to food safety/security emergencies.

Since 9/11, bio-security/food defense activities have dramatically increased at all levels of the federal government requiring tremendous logistics and coordination throughout. To fully appreciate FSIS food defense activities, an abridged synopsis of interrelated White House and departmental activities is needed.

On Oct. 8, 2002, President Bush established the Office of Homeland Security. The objective was to develop and coordinate the implementation of a comprehensive national strategy to secure our shores from terrorist coercion and attacks.

An internal USDA Homeland Security Council was structured to work in partnership with the Office of Homeland Security, the National Security Council and other departments to set a course for long-term success.

The council is responsible for establishing overall USDA Homeland Security policy, coordinating department-wide homeland security issues, tracking USDA progress on homeland security objectives and appointing a representative to interagency and other external groups. The council also ensures that information, research, and resources are shared and activities are coordinated with other federal agencies.

The Office of Food Defense & Emergency Response (OFDER) overlooks all homeland security activities within the FSIS. OFDER ensures that policy makers, scientists, and field staffs are prepared to prevent and respond to any food security threat.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *