In late September, I had the opportunity to sit down with Secretary of Agriculture Mike Johanns while he was in Kansas City for the International Symposium on Agroterrorism (ISA). We talked about several things related to the security of agriculture, especially animal agriculture.

“We know of no threat to agriculture, but we know there are people who want to harm us,” Johanns told me. “If you attack agriculture successfully, you shake the confidence of this country. And there is no better way of shaking people’s confidence than causing them to wonder about food they are eating.” The recent E. coli incident in spinach did just that, though no terrorism was suspected in that outbreak.

Johanns addressed the approximately 1,000 people who attended the second ISA conference put on by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Joint Terrorism Task Force. In attendance were members of law enforcement, government agencies, agribusiness, scientists, agricultural and food animal industry leaders and, to my delight, even some food animal veterinarians.

Since 9/11, we’ve looked at potential agroterrorism in a whole new way. Johanns was governor of my home state of Nebraska when the attacks happened in 2001. “The events on 9/11 really hit home and have changed the way we are doing things,” he said. “We’ve moved light years from that point.”

One of the changes has been more integration of federal departments. The preparation against an avian influenza outbreak is a good example of the cooperative effort between the Department of the Interior, Department of Heath and Human Services and the Department of Homeland Security. Preparation and training for a response against foot-and-mouth disease is another important task.

Get involved

It’s not enough as veterinarians to just watch and wait. There are ample ways you can get involved. Most states have bioterrorism/agroterrorism training and emergency response programs. Many have “voluntary veterinary corps” that undergo training in the event that a response is needed immediately by the local, state or federal government. Food animal and diagnostic expertise is especially needed for these groups, and practitioners are encouraged to get involved.

Veterinarians are busy -- that’s a given -- but weighing the potential implications to the food animal industry if an FMD or other major event should happen should give everyone motivation to at least consider more training. “I appreciate the pressures of the veterinarian’s day, but CE is critical,” says
Johanns. “I encourage food animal veterinarians to set aside the time to do that training if they can. It would be invaluable to our industry.”

Geni Wren, Editor

Next issue of Bovine Veterinarian: January 2007