Dr. Paul Reese
Bioterrorism is terrorism involving the intentional release or dissemination of biological agents. These agents are bacteria, viruses, or toxins, and may be in a naturally- occurring or a human-modified form. A bioterrorism attack is the deliberate release of viruses, bacteria, toxins or other harmful agents used to cause illness or death in people, animals, or plants. These agents are typically found in nature, but it is possible that they could be mutated or altered to increase their ability to cause disease, make them resistant to current medicines, or to increase their ability to be spread into the environment. Biological agents can be spread through the air, water, or in food. Terrorists tend to use biological agents because they are extremely difficult to detect and do not cause illness for several hours to several days. Some bioterrorism agents, like the smallpox virus, can be spread from person to person and some, like anthrax, cannot.
Biological agents are relatively easy to obtain by terrorists and are becoming more threatening in the U.S. Laboratories are working on advanced detection systems to provide early warning, identify contaminated areas and populations at risk, and to 2 facilitate prompt treatment. Methods for predicting the use of biological agents in urban areas as well as assessing the area for the hazards associated with a biological attack are being established in major cities.
Early detection and rapid response to bioterrorism depend on close cooperation between public health authorities and law enforcement, however, such cooperation is currently lacking. National detection assets and vaccine stockpiles are not useful if local and state officials do not have access to them. In 1999, the University of Pittsburgh's Center for Biomedical Informatics deployed the first automated bioterrorism detection system, called RODS (Real-Time Outbreak Disease Surveillance). RODS is designed to collect data from many data sources and use them to perform signal detection, that is, to detect the possible bioterrorism event at the earliest possible moment.
The contamination of food for terrorist purposes is a real and current threat. Sabotage on one location could have global public health implications. Outbreaks of both unintentional and deliberate food borne diseases can be managed by the same mechanisms. Sensible precautions, coupled with strong surveillance and response capacity, constitute the most efficient and effective way of countering all such emergencies, including food terrorism. Establishment and strengthening existing communicable disease control systems to ensure that surveillance as well as preparedness and response systems will both reduce food borne illness and help to address the threat of food terrorism.
Prevention is the first line of defense. The key to preventing food terrorism is establishment and enhancement of existing food safety management programs and 3 implementation of reasonable security measures. Prevention is best achieved through a cooperative effort between government and food industry. Deliberate contamination of food may have enormous economic implications. Economic disruption may be a primary motive for a deliberate act, targeting a product, a manufacturer, an industry or a country. Mass casualties are not required to achieve widespread economic loss and disruption of trade. Extortion threats directed at specific organizations, particularly those in the commercial sector, are more common than is generally believed.
The major strategies for countering the threat of food...