Threat Agents within Agricultural and Food Industries
Agroterrorism is a subset of bioterrorism, it is defined as introducing a disease into animals, such as livestock, or into plants for the purpose of generating fear, economic losses, and undermining social stability (Olson, 2012). Agroterrorism is normally broken down into three modes, a direct attack on livestock or plants through a virus to cause illness, an introduction of toxins into food supplies to cause illness and economic impact, and finally, a vector-borne disease to attack both humans and animals (RAND, 2004).
When it comes to characteristics that can increase an agroterrorism attack against the United States some of them include an increased disease within livestock, the introduction of hormone injections, changing the way the animal is born, and even branding can lower the tolerance that an animal would normally have to fight off contagious pathogenic agents (RAND, 2003).
These practices increase the risk of an agroterrorism attack through the introduction of a virus-like foot and mouth disease, which is a highly contagious apthovirus, and affects cloven-footed mammals into a farm that follows said practices can cause an epidemic (Olson, 2012). It could potentially result in economic issues from the recall of meats, the killing of infected animals, and cause more testing to be put into place.
Another characteristic is the insufficient security within farms and facilities that process agricultural goods, many facilities have different standard operating procedures, quality control of products, and an unscreened workforce moving throughout. Farms also have little to no security and are susceptible to unauthorized intrusion (RAND, 2003).
The increased risk with this characteristic is the ability of an Argo-terrorist cell to create a multi-tier terrorist attack. Without proper screening procedures, and allowing for unscreened workers, terrorists could infiltrate food facilities or farms and introduce viruses or biological agents into processed meats or grains, which could be shipped all over the United States causing diseases throughout. Also, since farms are geographically disbursed within the United States terrorists could be set up with multiple farms and facilities to make it harder when it comes to pinpoint the source.
This also goes in line with the characteristic of farmers being unable to account for their livestock, due to the amount of supply they may have. Farmers tend to overlook problems that may occur with their animals if they are receiving large results, and since livestock is normally herded into confined areas this could be a rapid outbreak (Roberge, 2015). This can increase the risk of an unknown pathogen making its way throughout the farmers' livestock, not only infecting their animals but the possibility of the product being contaminated and transferring into a human host.
Within farming there is a practice called monoculture, this is where only one crop is raised within a field, this can make a pathogen infection on a large scale and if it becomes airborne can spread to other fields or across the country (Roberge, 2015). This can cause an increased risk by infecting one crop, which could potentially infect many others. An example of this is corn crops and the carcinogenic mold aspergillus, which cause issues within corn crops in 2012. Since it is customary practice and allowed for farmers to mix contaminant corn containing aspergillus with uncontaminated corn, this could increase the risk of a terrorist adding more spores to batches of corn to poison humans and animals (Bloudoff, 2013).
These characteristics alone make a terrifying opportunity for an attack against agricultural assets; however, another threat is the lack of veterinarian training when it comes to diagnostic, the number of veterinarians that can detect exotic diseases within livestock has declined within the United States, and most veterinarians tend to work on domesticated animals (RAND, 2003).
This is an increasing threat to farms since the number of lethal and contagious biological agents is in greater numbers for animals. Most of these agents are found in foreign countries, and are not harmful to humans, making them easy for terrorists to acquire and handle, to unleash on livestock. Without veterinarians that are skilled in detecting these viruses, they could potentially spread rapidly and take-out food sources within the United States (Moke, 2007).
The known characteristics of our agricultural and food industries show our vulnerabilities and how unprepared against threat agents could be introduced to them. If an agroterrorism attack were to occur, it would cause panic, economic crisis, and a possibility of another pandemic. Now that the common characteristics have been identified, it is time to improve emergency planning and procedures to increase the overall security of our agricultural and food industries to prevent or mitigate agroterrorism threats.
Bloudoff, M. (2013, January 15). Fortified by Global Warming, Deadly Fungus Poisons Corn Crops, Causes Cancer. Retrieved from Scientific American: https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/deadly-fungus-poisons-corn-crops/
Moke, J. (2007, March 12). Agroterrorism: Threats and Preparedness. Retrieved from CRS Report for Congress: https://fas.org/sgp/crs/terror/RL32521.pdf
Olson, D. M. (2012). Agroterrorism: Threats to America's Economy and Food Supply. FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin, Vol 81. Iss. 2 pgs. 1-9.
RAND. (2003, November 19). The Bio-Terrorist Threat to Agricultural Livestock and Produce. Retrieved from RAND: https://www.rand.org/pubs/testimonies/CT213.html
RAND. (2004). The Office of Science and Technology Policy Blue Ribbon Panel on the Threat of Biological Terrorism Directed Against Livestock. RAND Science and Technology, 131.
Roberge, L. (2015, May 30). Agriculture, Biological Weapons and Agrobioterrorism; A Review. Retrieved from EC Agriculture: https://www.ecronicon.com/ecag/agriculture-ECAG-01-000021.php