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USA: Govt Ready for Food Supply Attack

Fed and state farm agencies on heightened alert. Procedures ''in place to respond quickly'' in case of agroterrorism, ag secretary says

October 27, 2001

WASHINGTON--U.S. Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman reassured American consumers and farmers that the government stands ready to respond quickly if the nation's food supply is the target of an attack, Reuters reported on Oct. 25.

Federal and state farm agencies have been on heightened alert, especially for foot-and-mouth disease and other highly contagious livestock diseases, since the deadly Sept. 11 attacks.

"Should we see any unusual activity, we have the protocols in place to respond quickly," Veneman said. She would not elaborate, except to say there have been no specific threats to the U.S. food supply.

Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson told Congress earlier this week that the nation's food supply could be the target of a terrorist attack. Thompson urged lawmakers--many of whom have balked in the past at spending more on food safety--to authorize hiring hundreds of additional food inspectors.

Former President Bill Clinton recently received more than a dozen vials in the mail tainted with salmonella, one of several diseases carried by food that can be fatal. Authorities said on Thursday, however, that they saw no connection to a string of anthrax attacks in New York, Washington, and Florida.

At no time did Clinton come into contact with the substance, Secret Service spokesman Jim Mackin said.

Almost 1.4 million cases of salmonella poisoning occur in the United States yearly from eating contaminated beef, pork, poultry, eggs, and milk.

The USDA inspects U.S. meat and poultry, while other processed foods and imports are under the jurisdiction of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Several other government agencies, including the Commerce Department and Environmental Protection Agency, are also involved in food safety policy.

Sen. Dick Durbin, an Illinois Democrat who for years has pressed Congress to spend more on food safety, told reporters he would try to add several food-security provisions to a bioterrorism bill for debate in the Senate next week.

Steps would range from requiring food makers to register with the government to giving the government authority to demand food recalls, which now are voluntary. The FDA would gain power to require country-of-origin labels on imported food and to limit ports of entry. Now, less than 1% of imported food is inspected by 150 FDA inspectors responsible for more than 300 ports of entry.

Kansas Sen. Pat Roberts, a Republican, said he is "making progress" in getting a pared-down version of his agroterrorism plan into the bioterrorism bill. It would call for slightly less than $1 billion in funding to update animal disease laboratories and other "first responders" to an outbreak of crop and livestock diseases.

Authorization for a longer-running program to combat agro-terrorism could be added to the farm policy bill that would be debated later this year or early next year, Roberts said.

Durbin said he decided as a practical matter to try to improve the food security system rather than ask approval now of his bill to create a single U.S. food safety agency. A dozen agencies now share authority.

"I've learned if you talk about a single food agency, you can't get to first base," Durbin said. But lawmakers might be receptive to the idea after being reminded of shortcomings in the current system and the value of harmonizing food rules.

Food safety is also a concern for American farmers. Several foreign farm diseases--such as foot-and-mouth, mad cow, African swine fever, and soybean rust--would have a costly, long-term impact if they infected U.S. livestock or crops.

The American Farm Bureau, the nation's biggest farm group, has urged the White House to appoint a food safety specialist within the new Office of Homeland Security to help safeguard agriculture.

USDA recently received $45 million for food security to upgrade its research facilities in New York and Iowa and improve training of local and state veterinarians.

-- Martin Thompson (, October 26, 2001


Paranoia! Huge amounts of Vitamin C will neutralize all kinds of food poisoning. If a little gets past, Charcoal will take care of the rest.

-- Sparky (, October 26, 2001.

This is a stretch. There are so many other ways terrorists can achieve more havoc, much more cheaply. Like hijacking hazardous wastes trucks, truck bombings of major infrastructure, etc. They don't even need to tackle the monumental task of attacking the nation's food supply.

-- Chance (, October 26, 2001.

I also think we are going over the edge with needless worry about food supply.

-- Loner (, October 26, 2001.

Not to worry about the food supply. This has got to be well down the list of the terrorists' priorities.

-- Billiver (, October 26, 2001.

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