America is highly vulnerable to an agroterrorism attack. That was the message echoed by several speakers at the 1st International Symposium on Agroterrorism held this week in Kansas City. Sponsored by the FBI, the event attracted approximately 800 registrants. 

James Roth, professor of veterinary medicine at IowaStateUniversity, said the U.S. agricultural system is vulnerable because of:

  • Dense populations of animals.
  • Extensive transportation of animals.
  • Poor traceability of animals.
  • Lack of immunity among domestic animals to foreign-animal diseases.

Underlying all of this is the threat by terrorist groups to do harm to the U.S. economy. Agriculture accounts for $1.24 trillion, or 12.3 percent, of the U.S. gross domestic product. And, 16.7 percent of the jobs in this country are related to agriculture.

However, despite this threat, some surprising holes still exist in our nation’s ability to prepare and respond to an attack.

For example, the United States does not have any level-4 biosafety labs, says Roth. A level-4 biosafe lab offers the highest level of security for researching animal pathogens that also are dangerous to humans. Researchers have had to work with a lab in Canada to test pigs for a Nipah virus vaccine.

At a meeting with editors at Vance Publishing Corp. — parent company of Drovers — U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Mike Johanns said he is aware of the level-4 lab situation and will work to address it. “It is on the radar screen,” he said.

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