Bioterrorism very real threat

The vulnerability of agricultural assets between farm and fork  is concerning Terry Etherton, Distinguished Professor of Animal Nutrition and head of Dairy & Animal Science at Pennsylvania University.

Agriculture in the U.S. is remarkably robust from a standpoint of productivity and efficiency in the food distribution chain but dangerously fragile because of countless vulnerabilities that could be exploited. There are few events that would cause more economic damage than a widespread attack on the agriculture infrastructure in the U.S .

He looks at threats from nature, foreign animal diseases and asymetric biolgical attacks and gives a close to home example in the latter category:

A recent example of an asymmetric attack occurred in New Zealand where a small group of farmers intentionally introduced a virulent rabbit pathogen (rabbit calicivirus disease) as a strategy to control the population of wild rabbits. This introduction was so effective that the disease is epizootic in New Zealand and threatens to spread beyond Oceana. The significance of this event is that a group of motivated individuals without much scientific training managed to research, acquire a source of the pathogen, and penetrate one of the best biosecurity systems in the world to unleash a hemorrhagic disease virus on the rabbit population in New Zealand.

While I appreciated the frustration farmers felt at inaction on the rabbit plague, the illegal introduction of RCD set a dangerous precedent and also showed that in spite of tough bio security controls, we are vulnerable to accidental or deliberate attacks.

Etherton concludes:

It is not easy to answer the questions of how bad an agricultural bioterrorist event would be in the U.S. However, the preponderance of evidence is that it would be potentially devastating to agribusiness and likely challenging to national security. A huge challenge will be to find ways to reduce the likelihood of an attack and the subsequent impact on society.

If the impact of agricultural bioterroism poses that much of a threat to the USA, the danger is even greater in New Zealand where a much greater proportion of our economy is dependent on agriculture.

HAT TIP: Farming Show

3 Responses to Bioterrorism very real threat

  1. kg says:

    There’s absolutely no practical way to prevent a determined individual or group from mounting such an attack.
    What’s needed is a robust and very fast response protocol which will identify and isolate any outbreaks, but the identification/notification phase alone is riddled with difficulties.
    The first of which is awareness of the possibility of an attack. Here in this country we tend to have an ingrained “it can’t happen here” attitude and the possibility that a disease outbreak was deliberately engineered would be slow to surface.
    By then it would probably be too late to contain it. (depending on the disease, of course but anybody wishing to inflict maximum damage would obviously choose something extremely contagious but with a longish incubation period)
    In short, we’re a sitting target and that’s not likely to change any time soon.


  2. adamsmith1922 says:

    I thought it was now known who brought in RCD. Why were they not prosecuted?


  3. homepaddock says:

    Adam – there are suspicions but I don’t think it’s ever been proved.


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