The United States needs to continue taking steps to protect its food supply from terrorism just as it would its buildings, airports and other infrastructure, FBI deputy director John S. Pistole said.
"The threat from agroterrorism may not be widely recognized, but the threat is real and the impact could be devastating," Pistole said Monday. "The recent E. coli outbreak in California spinach has captured the public attention even without a terror nexus."
Pistole, keynote speaker at the second International Symposium on Agroterrorism, pointed to a nonterrorism example — a single case of mad cow disease in the United States in 2003 — to illustrate the potential impact.
"Days after the discovery, 53 countries banned U.S. beef imports. The economic loss to the U.S. cattle industry from the loss of beef imports just to Japan was more than $2 billion a year," Pistole said. "Almost three years later, countries have reopened their borders to U.S. beef, but exports still have not reached 2003 levels."
Pistole told about 1,000 delegates from 21 countries attending the four-day symposium that terrorist groups like al Qaeda have shown interest in U.S. agriculture and could threaten the food supply. He said while there was no "specific communicated threat at this time," the "absence of a communicated threat does not prove the absence of a threat."
The U.S. food and agriculture industry employs about one in eight Americans and is important not only to Americans, but because of its massive exports, to much of the world, as well, Pistole said.
"The bottom line is that agriculture, just like buildings, bridges and tunnels, is a critical infrastructure in need of defense," he said.
Barry Erlick, president of BJE Associates, a scientific and technical consulting firm, said the U.S. food supply faces threats from livestock diseases around the world.
He said there are several animal-borne diseases that occur in livestock overseas and have not been present in U.S. livestock. But he said terrorists could bring the diseases to the United States.
"An attack on agriculture is about all those things that terrorism is about
: fear, tension, cause, disruption and possibly a political statement," he said.
Donald Kautter, general health scientist for the Food and Drug Administration, advised those attending who were in the food business to learn about ensuring the safety of their products. When he asked for a show of hands on who had taken the FDA's online one-hour course, Food Defense 101, very few hands went up.
"Consider this your push" to take the course, he said. "I bet you're not as secure as you think."
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WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Nearly a quarter of the 2007 winter Kansas wheat crop has been planted, Kansas Agricultural Statistics Service said.
In its weekly crop update released Monday, the agency reported that this year's winter wheat planting was progressing more slowly than usual. About 24 percent of the crop has been planted, compared with the 29 percent average for this time of year. Six percent has emerged.
Meanwhile, Kansas farmers were also busy last week getting their fall-harvested crops in the bin.
The latest report estimated corn harvest at 42 percent. About 14 percent of the sorghum and two percent of the soybeans were cut, along with 3 percent of the sunflowers.
Kansas Agricultural Statistics Service reported that parts of the state with cooler temperatures saw slower crop progress, but crop and pasture conditions were stable over the past week.