Special Report: Bioterrorism - Using Foods and Beverages As Deadly Weapons
By Dr. William Oliver Hedgepeth, Faculty Member, Transportation and Logistics Management, American Military University
via EDM Digest - March 11, 2019
Note: This article first appeared at In Homeland Security.
“The food industry should start thinking seriously about various terrorism-related scenarios that could potentially involve radioactive materials and make preparations for dealing with these situations should they become reality,” Robert A. Norton, Ph.D., urges in Food Safety Magazine.
“The most immediate element of concern for a food facility — maybe a large production plant or sprawling warehouse — would actually be from the direct blast effects emanating from an improvised explosive device (IED) rather than from any radioactive material that might be present,” Norton added.
He was particularly concerned about possible radioactive elements being inserted into foods and beverages to cause illnesses or death. But the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has provided the food industry very rigid safeguards against poisonous chemicals entering our food. The USDA has a detailed list of Food Safety Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) on food handling, cleaning, cooking and personal hygiene.
According to the Department of Homeland Security, there are “an estimated 2.1 million farms, 935,000 restaurants, and more than 200,000 registered food manufacturing, processing, and storage facilities. This sector accounts for roughly one-fifth of the nation's economic activity.”
Bioterrorism and Food Safety Research to Protect People
The Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health is a national leader in bioterrorism and food safety research. Scientists there are studying how harmful elements can enter the complex, often invisible food and beverage supply chain that extends from raw materials to a final product on the dinner table.
There are two categories currently under research:
1. Terrorist targeting of livestock and crops during production, harvesting and storage (agroterrorism)
2. Terrorist targeting of processed foods during processing, manufacturing, storage, transport, distribution or service
Agroterrorism is an economic weapon that could target the estimated $150 billion livestock industry. That would include cattle, sheep, pigs and chickens, as well as produce such as grains, fruits and vegetables.
An attack on the U.S. food industry would cause great harm to the nation’s economy and destroy the livelihoods of thousands of farmers and grocers. Furthermore, it would affect restaurants, warehouses and distribution centers, online companies, and the transportation systems of truck, rail, air and sea. And that does not include the cost of affected logistics, supply chains and transportation systems.
Public Laws to Protect the US from Bioterrorism
Congress enacted the Public Health Security And Bioterrorism Preparedness And Response Act of 2002 to prevent agricultural bioterrorism. Its focus is to put in place federal and state assistance and organizations to ensure that what we regularly eat and drink is safe. This law outlines the legal reporting provisions to keep us safe from bad actors’ malevolent intentions or from accidents in any part of the supply chain.
The US. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is the regulatory arm of the Department of Health and Human Services (DHS). It protects the public from deliberate attacks against our food and beverage supply as well as accidents that can lead to foodborne illnesses, such as the recall of E.coli-contaminated romaine lettuce in 2018.
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