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Archive for Saturday, December 1, 2001

Food at risk from terrorists, senator warns

Some attackers had ag background

December 1, 2001

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— Some terrorists involved in the Sept. 11 attacks had agricultural backgrounds, so it is likely their interest in crop dusters was aimed at destroying U.S. crops rather than infecting people, U.S. Sen. Pat Roberts said Friday.

The Kansas senator, who is on the Senate intelligence committee, spoke at the Kansas Livestock Assn. meeting in Wichita, where he talked about his agroterrorism bill.

Roberts said that while he does not have a warning of any specific threat, the danger to the nation's food security is real. He said he has seen intelligence reports that showed some of the terrorists had agricultural training.

"There is a school of thought that I adhere to that the crop dusters that we heard about were not for people, but for crops. If you look at the kind of pathogens terrorists could use against our nation's food supply, I think it is pretty easy to do."

The FBI has now raised that specter saying the risk is very high, Roberts said.

"What would happen to the farm economy and the national economy, but also what will happen in inner cities to people who have taken their food supply for granted? It would be absolutely chaotic," he said.

He called the threat to food security among the five top terrorist threats to the nation.

Agriculture contributed $1.5 trillion to the nation's gross domestic product in 1999, he said. A terrorist attack on the nation's crops or livestock industries could affect production for several years.

"The introduction of pathogens such as foot-and-mouth or avian flu or Karnal bunt would be devastating," he said.

Karnal bunt was detected for the first time in the nation's wheat belt last summer during harvest in two Texas counties. But it took 15 days before the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Animal Plant and Health Inspection Service quarantined the affected counties.

There is no proof that the 2001 outbreak, which has cost the affected Texas counties $27 million this year, was related to terrorism. It is believed the disease was carried north by farmers planting infected wheat seed or by livestock grazing on infected wheat.

Roberts said his bill would bolster the "first responder" capabilities of the USDA and allow the agency to act quickly when a quarantine is needed.

But livestock producers meeting in Wichita were most concerned about diseases such as foot-and-mouth, which devastated Great Britain's livestock industry earlier this year.

Much of the convention focused on state animal health experts talk about the state's emergency plans for the disease, and biosecurity precautions.

"I feel I am risking everything," said Hamilton cattleman Mike Collinge, the KLA's newly elected president.

He said many Kansas cattlemen are uncertain whether they should even be in the business when a terrorist attack using pathogens could destroy everything they've worked for.

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