American Military University
November 23, 2011
Agriculture is a key component and driver of our economy as well as the main food source for US citizens. The US serves as one of the largest exporters of food supplies to nations around the globe. (1) A significant disruption in our exports would have ripple effects within the US and throughout the global health system. The potential impacts of an Agroterrorism attack would be devastating to public health, both nationally and on the global front could be significant. (2)
Definitions of Agroterrorism
Agroterrorism is a subset of the larger field of threats posed by chemical and biological terrorism. As defined by the Rand Corporation (3), agroterrorism is “the deliberate introduction of a disease agent, either against livestock or into the food chain, for the purposes of undermining socioeconomic stability and/or generating fear. Depending on the disease agent and pathogenic vector chosen, agroterrorism is a tactic that can be used either to cause mass socioeconomic disruption or as a form of direct human aggression”. The Department of Homeland Security defines agricultural bioterrorism as an intentional attack on agriculture or the food system using a disease causing agent. Agroterrorism might lack the high visual impacts of large high yield explosives (nuclear or conventional) and may or may not result in thousands of people seeking urgent medical care; however, it remains an insidious form of terror. If perpetrated within the continental US or near our forces deployed in a combat theater, agroterrorism could strategically impact our ability as a nation to ensure the security and safety of our citizens and the ability to execute military missions as directed by our civilian leaders. An agroterrorism attack on our deployed forces could be both debilitating and demoralizing, thus challenging a combatant commander’s ability to field an effective combat force. Citizenry confidence in the government’s ability to govern and ensure basic securities could be jeopardized. Economic impacts of an attack could be tremendous and require years for full recovery. Historical Perspective:
Agroterrorism is not a new post 9/11 concept. From the use of rye ergot by the Assyrians (4) in 6th Century B.C to poison the wells of their enemies, improvised and refined biological agents have been used by armies and terrorist to influence the behavior of others. Since 1912, there have been twelve documented cases involving the sub-state use of pathogenic agents to infect livestock or contaminate a related produce. Agroterrorism can take many forms and be carried out in a variety of ways. Toxins, pathogens and bacteria may be introduced into the food production system, either in our large plant based agricultural markets or into our livestock or commercial poultry flocks. These potential introductions could result in massive herd culling, a need to destroy processed goods and create a requirement for extensive decontamination efforts of both production facilities and livestock containment facilities. These scenarios present a clear threat to the American reliance on a safe and inexpensive food supply. What are the Threats?
Since 9/11, the threat of agroterrorism has been widely discussed in forums ranging from emergency response planners to congressional oversight committees. In May 2005, the House of Representatives held hearings to specifically evaluate the threat of agroterrorism. (5) Based upon the testimony provided, the committee concluded the threat is real and that the intelligence community must do a better job of relaying threat information down to the state and local level. Concerns were expressed during testimony regarding Al Qaeda training manuals recovered in Afghanistan which specifically identified the targeting of agriculture as a means to impact a nation’s economic stature. Threats...