Since the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, the nation is more keenly aware of the need to protect the integrity and safety of our agriculture and food infrastructure. Historically, our food safety, plant protection and animal health regulatory systems have assumed the accidental contamination of food or inadvertent introduction of animal disease or plant pest. The prospect of an intentional, or terrorist, attack on our food and agriculture industry raises grave concerns that present challenges for producers and policy makers alike.
The food and agriculture industry in the United States is not only key to the public health and welfare of this nation but is an important force in the economic, social and political fabric, as well. Farming and ranching are the foundations of our $1 trillion food and fiber business with nearly $137 billion in annual exports. This vast industry is essential to the economic health of virtually every community. It generates almost 15 percent of the total economic activity in the nation, as well as providing almost 18 percent of the country’s jobs. The “farm to table” food supply chain is a complex system that includes millions of acres of cropland, millions of livestock, thousands of feedlots, processing plants, warehouses, research facilities, and packaging and distribution networks that bring food from around the nation and the world to markets and restaurants across the nation.
In order to defend our homeland, there are an array of sectors ranging from farms with relatively open croplands to highly secure food and dairy processing facilities that need protecting. At the retail end, small neighborhood markets and cafes operate alongside large supermarket chains and nationally franchised restaurants. The National Homeland Security Presidential Directive (HSPD 9 – Defense of U.S. Agriculture and Food) recognizes the importance of securing the nation’s food supply and designated agriculture as a “critical infrastructure.” The threat of a terrorist attack on the food and agriculture industries is likely to involve the contamination of resources rather than the destruction of infrastructure. However, the diverse and widespread nature of the industry makes it extremely difficult to identify and secure every facility that might be a potential target. In the case of food, for example, introduction of minute levels of certain hazardous agents could cause widespread harm, including serious economic and social disruption. Local, state and federal partners as well as the industry itself have already taken important steps to help protect the food and agriculture industry from terrorist attack. Greater linkage at all levels of government and the private sector of resources, expertise, and initiatives is needed to achieve shared security/defense and emergency preparedness objectives