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AgroterrorismAgroterrorism is a major threat to America: Experts

Published 7 January 2015

The economic effects of a successful attack on the U.S. food supply would be devastating, as agriculture accounts for roughly 13 percent of the country’s gross annual domestic product. An introduction of deadly pathogens into U.S. livestock, poultry, or crops would not only result in a disease outbreak, but would disrupt the global food industry and drive up food prices. Agroterrorism is not limited to the intentional introduction of harmful pathogens into U.S. farms and livestock. Terrorists can also cyberattack industrial agriculture systems responsible for operating feeding machines, maintaining milk temperatures, and processing foods.

Ever since the 9/11 attacks, farmers across the United States have been on high alert because the U.S. food supply remains vulnerable to terrorists seeking to harm Americans and damage the economy through non-violent means. “Agriculture is vulnerable to terrorists because we can’t put a 12-foot chain link fence around every farm in Alabama and the rest of America,” said Brad Fields, a veterinarian who is director of Emergency Programs with the Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries.

Farmers and livestock producers have been urged actively to monitor their facilities with security in mind. An analysis of agroterrorism by the College of Agricultural Sciences at Pennsylvania State University notes that most cattle diseases are introduced through the purchase of infected animals. Some farms now isolate new animals from the rest of the herd for several days to watch for any symptoms of disease.

The economic effects of a successful attack on the U.S. food supply would be devastating, as agriculture accounts for roughly 13 percent of the country’s gross annual domestic product. An introduction of deadly pathogens into U.S. livestock, poultry, or crops would not only result in a disease outbreak, but would disrupt the global food industry and drive up food prices. Agroterrorism is not limited to the intentional introduction of harmful pathogens into U.S. farms and livestock. Terrorists can also cyberattack industrial agriculture systems responsible for operating feeding machines, maintaining milk temperatures, and processing foods.

The ease of a cyberattack, and its anonymous nature, have some terrorism analysts questioning the likelihood of a physical bioattack on the U.S food supply. Robert A. Norton, a veterinary microbiologist with research interests in cybersecurity and public health, insists that terrorists are not likely to plan an attack for which the government has prepared a response. They often seek the path of least resistance. Industrial agriculture systems are vulnerable to cyberattacks and terrorists have the expertise to exploit those vulnerabilities.

Rather than using biological weapons to kill cattle or poisons to contaminate milk, why not just turn off the electricity? Doing that can kill the animals (e.g., chickens in commercial operations), [it] spoils the milk and makes the ground beef inedible, with the extra special bonus that it also causes everyone to plunge into darkness (widespread panic), shutters access to bank ATMs and fuel, causes breathtaking gridlock and makes the government look totally helpless and inept,” Norton writes.