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AgroterrorismBioterrorism poses catastrophic threat to U.S. agriculture

Published 30 January 2017

The agriculture sector in the U.S. is a $1 trillion business and employs approximately 9.2 percent of American workers. In 2012, domestic animal agriculture – livestock and poultry production – generated approximately 1.8 million jobs, $346 billion in total economic output and $60 billion in household income. Experts are calling better understanding of the threats to agriculture posed by biological agents which can inflict catastrophic consequences on the U.S. population and economy.

Members of the Blue Ribbon Study Panel on Biodefense last week hosted a forum on the campus of Kansas State University to better understand the threats to agriculture posed by biological agents which can inflict catastrophic consequences on the U.S. population and economy. Former U.S. Senate Majority Leader and Panel Member Tom Daschle and former presidential Homeland Security Advisor Ken Wainstein chaired the meeting, which provided non-federal government and industry representatives an opportunity to offer the Panel their perspectives on agrodefense challenges and solutions.

“Recent events throughout the world clearly demonstrate that we need to strengthen our defenses against biological threats, including threats to agriculture,” said Daschle. “We need to use a One Health approach and address animal, environmental and human health simultaneously. The Blue Ribbon Study Panel on Biodefense believes that a much higher priority must be placed on agrodefense. Our economy and way of life depend on it.”

In an opinion editorial published recently in U.S. News & World Report, Daschle and General Richard Myers, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and current president of Kansas State University, said that any threat to U.S. agricultural production and security would have devastating economic, societal and political impacts. The agriculture sector in the U.S. is a $1 trillion business and employs approximately 9.2 percent of American workers. In 2012, domestic animal agriculture – livestock and poultry production – generated approximately 1.8 million jobs, $346 billion in total economic output and $60 billion in household income.

“A terrorist attack on our nation’s agricultural sector could prove devastating to our economy and our sense of security,” said Wainstein. “We need to take all possible steps to reduce our vulnerability and increase our capacity to respond to such an attack.”

Among the key questions posed during today’s discussion were:

  • What is the current level of effectiveness across the spectrum of activities undertaken for and comprehensiveness of agrodefense?
  • What are the major impediments to and opportunities for increasing situational awareness for agricultural threats, and accuracy of agricultural and zoonotic disease detection and clinical diagnosis?
  • What can be done to strengthen and foster leadership in the agrodefense arena?

A complete list of panelists who participated in today’s session is available here.

Last week’s meeting follows the release of a new report from the Panel. The report, Biodefense Indicators – One Year Later, Events Outpacing Federal Efforts to Defend the Nation, states that while the biological threat is real and continues to grow, our nation remains woefully under-prepared for dangerous biological incidents.

The Panel assessed biodefense efforts across the spectrum from prevention to recovery, and developed detailed recommendations for the federal government to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of these efforts. In its first report, the Panel put forward thirty-three recommendations and eighty-seven action items that, if implemented, would dramatically and quickly improve biodefense. They addressed the need for enhanced federal coordination, optimized collaboration with non-federal partners (particularly in the private sector), and timely adoption of innovative solutions for technological and governance challenges.