PDF _ RL32521 - Agroterrorism: Threats and Preparedness
13-Aug-2004; Jim Monke; 49 p.

Update: August 25, 2006

Previous releases:
/NLE/CRSreports/04Dec/RL32521.pdf

Abstract: The potential of terrorist attacks against agricultural targets (agroterrorism) is increasingly recognized as a national security threat, especially after the events of September 11, 2001. Agroterrorism is a subset of bioterrorism, and is defined as the deliberate introduction of an animal or plant disease with the goal of generating fear, causing economic losses, and/or undermining social stability.

The goal of agroterrorism is not to kill cows or plants. These are the means to the end of causing economic damage, social unrest, and loss of confidence in government. Human health could be at risk if contaminated food reaches the table or if an animal pathogen is transmissible to humans (zoonotic). While agriculture may not be a terrorist’s first choice because it lacks the “shock factor” of more traditional terrorist targets, many analysts consider it a viable secondary target.

Agriculture has several characteristics that pose unique vulnerabilities. Farms are geographically disbursed in unsecured environments. Livestock are frequently concentrated in confined locations, and transported or commingled with other herds. Many agricultural diseases can be obtained, handled, and distributed easily. International trade in food products often is tied to disease-free status, which could be jeopardized by an attack. Many veterinarians lack experience with foreign animal diseases that are eradicated domestically but remain endemic in foreign countries. In the past 5 years, agriculture and food production have received increasing attention in the counterterrorism community. Laboratory and response capacity are being upgraded to address the reality of agroterrorism, and national response plans now incorporate agroterrorism.

Congress has held hearings on agroterrorism and enacted laws and appropriations with agroterrorism-related provisions. The executive branch has responded by implementing the new laws, issuing several presidential directives, and creating liaison and coordination offices. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) has studied several issues related to agroterrorism.

Appropriations and user fees for agriculture-related homeland security activities in USDA and DHS have more than tripled from a $225 million “pre-September 11” baseline in FY2002 to $797 million in FY2006. Agriculture now receives about 2% of the total non-defense budget authority for homeland security.

Increasing the level of agroterrorism preparedness remains a concern, as does interagency coordination and adequate border inspections Several bills have been introduced in Congress to authorize funding or otherwise improve the level of preparedness and coordination of response to an agroterrorist attack. These bills include S. 572, S. 573, S. 975, S. 1532, H.R. 4239, and S. 1926.

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Topics: Agriculture, Risk & Reform, Legislative

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