FDA on High Alert for Food-Related Bioterrorism

The FDA cites incidents in other countries to highlight the importance of its watchdog role in food security. In 2002, a restaurant owner in China added chemicals to a competitor’s food, killing dozens of people and sending hundreds to the hospital. In another incident in 2002, three people were arrested in Jerusalem for allegedly planning a mass poisoning of patrons at a cafe. In January 2003, several people were arrested in London for plotting to add deadly ricin to the food supply on a British military base.

How many incidences on foreign soil will it take to make U.S. food producers recognize the deadly threat of bioterrorism? Will it take an incident on U.S. soil before all U.S. food producers are registered with the FDA and take the necessary steps to protect the food supply?

The U.S. government is attempting to integrate its departments and work with industry to anticipate, preempt and deter threats to the homeland. They are doing this by thinking like a terrorist – anticipating what a terrorist organization might do and then using the insight they gain to stop terrorist before they strike.

Vulnerability Assessment

Homeland Security Presidential Directive 9 (HSPD-9), Defense of United States Agriculture and Food, requires the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) to prepare U.S. foods for an intentional attack on meat, poultry and egg products.

“Shortly after 9/11, both FDA and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) did an assessment to determine the most vulnerable products and agents,” says Dr. Carol A. Maczka, assistant administrator of the Office of Food Defense and Emergency Response, FSIS. “Then the White House asked the FSIS to use the same methodology: CARVER + Shock.”

The CARVER + Shock Method is an offensive targeting tool that the U.S. Department of Defense developed to figure out what are the high-risk targets. But FSIS adapted this for food.

“For example, let’s say you’re worried about meat production or liquid egg products,” Maczka explains. “You take your production system, and you break it down into subsystems, complexes, components and nodes – the smallest piece of your physical infrastructure.” In a processing plant, a silo could be a node. Then, you apply the acronym CARVER to the node, and you assess each node:

  • The “C” in CARVER stands for “critical.” This part of the assessment addresses the following questions: With respect to this node, how critical is this node? Would it knock out the entire system if this node was attacked? How many people would the attack kill? How many would it injure? What would be the economical impact?
  • “A” stands for “accessibility.” Determine how accessible the target node is to a terrorist. Can the terrorist get in, do his damage, and get out?
  • “R” stands for “recuperate.” If a terrorist attacks this node, can the system recuperate? What would be the effect on production? “For example, if a terrorist knocked out your ground beef production system, you should determine how long you think it would take for your production system to recuperate,” says Maczka.
  • “V” stands for “vulnerability.” How vulnerable is the node to attack? Is it easy to get to the node? A cover, cap or seal could help protect the node. Could a terrorist easily drop an agent into the node? If a terrorist has to back up a truck full of an agent to a node to get to the node, there is a much better chance that the terrorist will be discovered.
  • “E” stands for “effect.” What would be the overall effect on the system?
  • “R” stands for “recognizable.” How recognizable is the particular node? For example, if you were a terrorist, you may not be able to recognize a node if the node does not stand out as a target.

The “Shock” is the political and psychological effect of an attack on the node. Is a subset of the population going to be affected (i.e. children)? Maczka says, terrorists may attack a McDonald’s restaurant, which is recognized as a U.S. symbol, and children could be in danger. Just as symbolic nature also needs to be considered in vulnerability assessments.


After you rank your particular node and all of the nodes in your system, you should come to a consensus on your score. (Government agencies are available to help you with this.) Then you should decide from the scores which nodes in the system are most important, and you can begin working on countermeasures to put in place.

Leave a Reply

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