this was on the front page of the Philadelphia Inquirer
this morning. You can find it through www.phillynews.com
should you have need for a more complete reference.
p.s. I am going to be doing some market intelligence
work(gathering price/product information) in several retail
grocery outlets in the Philly center city area in the next
week. If you have any requests for specific info, email me
U.S. could face new terror tactic: Agricultural warfare
By Steve Goldstein
INQUIRER WASHINGTON BUREAU
WASHINGTON - With government money and attention focused on
thwarting biological and chemical weapons targeted at
humans, officials are now just barely awakening to an
equally insidious and catastrophic threat: agroterror, or
biowarfare targeting a nation's animals or crops.
At the moment, the United States is highly vulnerable to
such an attack and has no means to detect it or immediately
thwart it, according to biowarfare and law enforcement
Bioterrorism aimed at humans would look "economically pale"
against an attack on the agricultural sector, said
veterinary pathologist Corrie Brown, an agroterror expert
at the University of Georgia.
"A terrorist wishing to cause severe and reverberating
financial consequences could simply introduce a foreign
disease into American livestock, which would set off a
chain reaction touching virtually every citizen's
pocketbook," Brown said.
"We are sitting ducks for agricultural terrorism," she
"We're incredibly vulnerable," said Drew Richardson, an FBI
special assistant overseeing a hazardous-materials unit
that responds to terrorist events. "I personally think we
have little ability to prevent anything. We can only hope
Air Force Col. Robert Kadlec, a biowarfare expert, said
agroterror "offers an adversary the means to wage a
potentially subtle yet devastating form of warfare, one
which would impact the political, social and economic
sectors of a society and potentially of national survival
Because U.S. livestock and poultry are the healthiest and
most protected in the world, they are especially vulnerable
to new diseases. Biowarfare specialists lay out a
fictitious - but quite plausible - terrorist scenario in
which the $54 billion-a-year U.S. dairy and beef industry
is left in turmoil, international trade is crippled, and
thousands of animals would have to be destroyed:
A terrorist arrives on a flight to Washington with a
foot-and-mouth virus taken from an infected cow in Africa.
He drives south into the Virginia countryside and transfers
the virus by hand to cows and horses along the roadside.
By the time he reaches Richmond, a full-blown epidemic of
foot-and-mouth disease among livestock is virtually
assured. The full economic and political repercussions
would take years to sort out.
Does this sound like hype? In Belgium last week, the prime
minister was forced to resign in a food scandal that has
cost the Belgian economy nearly $1 billion.
The cancer-causing chemical dioxin was found in fat or fuel
oil that contaminated batches of chicken and animal feed
shipped to 1,400 poultry producers in Belgium and parts of
France and the Netherlands. When the problem was
discovered, Belgian chickens and chicken byproducts, then
pork and beef, were quickly banned across Europe and Asia.
No investigator has voiced such a suspicion, but what if
the feed was intentionally tainted?
U.S. officials said the stakes are high if a similar
episode were to strike here: Annual U.S. agricultural
exports total $140 billion.
"These things can take you off the world market - and then
it's hard to get back on," said veterinary microbiologist
David Huxsoll of Louisiana State University.
Compared with traditional bio-attacks, agroterror presents
less risk to the perpetrator. "It gets the terrorists'
coercive point across but it doesn't necessarily cross the
threshold of killing people, and thus doesn't create the
same kind of backlash," said terrorism expert Bruce Hoffman
of the Rand Corp.
Microbiologist Stefan Wagener thinks a hoax is more likely
than the real thing, but adds that the "ingredients and the
recipes" for an agroattack are readily available "and the
willingness is increasing."
Wagener described scenarios in which the dairy industry
could be devastated by "mad cow" disease, Asian longhorn
beetles could be used to kill maple trees and cripple syrup
production in New England, or soybean rust could wipe out
an $8 billion-a-year industry.
"The most knowledgeable intelligence people think that an
event here is likely within the next 10 years," said Thomas
Frazier, an agricultural security consultant.
Animals today are reared intensively - some feedlots
comprise 100,000 animals - and large herds make ideal
targets for infection and rapid spread. Certain segments
are especially vulnerable because of concentrated animal
populations, such as poultry in the
Delaware-Maryland-Virginia peninsula. About three-quarters
of the swine industry is located in nine Midwestern states.
The largest recent animal disease outbreak occurred in 1983
and 1984, when avian influenza swept through Pennsylvania
and neighboring states. A six-month eradication plan cost
the federal government $63 million, while poultry prices
for consumers jumped overall by $350 million.
Avian influenza is a zoonotic disease, meaning it is
transmissible to humans and thus has greater impact.
After bovine spongiform encephalopathy - or "mad cow"
disease - was discovered in Great Britain in 1988, the
value of British beef fell considerably. It dropped to zero
when it was discovered in 1996 that there was a probable
link between eating BSE-affected meat and a variant of
Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease in humans.
Last June, virulent Newcastle disease, a foreign virus that
causes bloody diarrhea and death in domestic poultry, was
found in game chickens in Fresno, Calif. Rapid recognition
limited the spread of the disease, but it still resulted in
an estimated $400 million in lost revenue.
"Agricultural terrorism could be as easy as dropping
Newcastle disease, virus-contaminated bird feces, into a
feeding trough, or a shred of foot-and-mouth disease into
the air intake at a large hog operation," Brown said.
Biological warfare against humans demands a grasp of
molecular biology, most experts say. But animal disease
delivery is comparatively low-tech.
Foot-and-mouth disease is particularly worrisome because it
is highly contagious, and once in the air the virus is
capable of almost uncontrollable spread. The disease causes
several ulcers and blisters. Humans carry the virus and can
transmit it to animals, but people rarely develop symptoms
of the disease itself.
A 1997 outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease among pigs in
Taiwan killed the export market of fresh pork to Japan.
More than eight million hogs have been slaughtered to date.
The infected pig has been traced to Hong Kong, according to
well-placed intelligence officials, and China is suspected
In 1996, the karnal bunt fungus was found in wheat in
Arizona, resulting in a massive quarantine that also
affected parts of Texas, New Mexico and California. The
disease reduces wheat yields.
Offensive biowarfare programs targeting agriculture have
been identified in the former Soviet Union, Iraq and South
Ken Alibek, a top official in Soviet germ warfare who
defected in 1992, has provided the U.S. government with
chilling details of a Soviet agroterror program. In his new
book, "Biohazard," Alibek described a program code-named
"Ecology" that developed variants of diseases to attacks
cows, pigs and chickens.
These agents were designed to be sprayed from tanks
attached to Ilyushin bombers and flown low over a target
along a straight line for hundreds of miles. Even if only a
few animals were successfully infected, the contagious
nature of the organisms ensured that the disease would wipe
out livestock over a wide area in several months.
Alibek's disclosures provided a wake-up call to government
officials who had ignored agriculture in developing
Floyd Horn, a top USDA official spearheading this effort,
also noted ruefully that there is no deterrent in the form
of punishment for agroterror, as compared with nuclear or
chemical-biological attacks that kill or injure people.
The Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, the
regulatory arm of the USDA, maintains a cadre of field
veterinarians to monitor animal disease, but Brown and
others lament budget cutbacks that reduced their numbers
and said there are not nearly enough experts trained in
exotic foreign diseases.
"There was a national effort [on terrorism] but the USDA
and agriculture got left out," said LSU's Huxsoll. "Now
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