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Archive for Sunday, December 9, 2001

Defense bill includes food supply protections

December 9, 2001

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— Key elements of a plan to protect the nation's food supply were part of defense spending legislation passed late last week in the Senate.

Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., said Saturday that parts of an agroterrorism measure he is sponsoring were included in the defense bill and its $20 billion package for bolstering security at home.

The agroterrorism provisions include $81 million to enhance security at U.S. Agriculture Department facilities; $70 million to boost security and do research specifically in the areas of food safety and bioterrorism; $73 million to upgrade USDA buildings in Iowa and $50 million for research at a consortium of universities including Kansas State University.

In addition, the USDA would get $109 million for border inspections and pest detection. The bill also would add $15 million for food safety inspections, which was not part of Roberts' original proposal.

The concern is that terrorists could use food as weapons of terrorism. Experts say potential targets include fruits and vegetables that people eat raw and are subject to little inspection, and cattle that could be infected with the fast-spreading foot-and-mouth disease that is harmless to humans but devastating to the economy.

In talking about the threat, Roberts has described how, after Sept. 11, the government stepped up security at the Capitol, other government buildings, airports, sports arenas and businesses.

"We should do the same for our agriculture and our nation's food supply," Roberts said earlier.

The Senate approved its own version of legislation already adopted in the House, and differences must be hammered out in a conference committee before a final defense bill can be submitted for approval in both chambers and sent to Bush.

Lawmakers voted Friday for a $318 billion defense bill and a compromise $20 billion package attached to it.

Earlier in the day, GOP senators rallied behind Bush and voted to kill a Democratic-written $35 billion response to the Sept. 11 attacks.

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