Agro-terrorism defenses to be improved

By Stewart Doan

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.



WASHINGTON, Sept. 14--The federal government must do more to help the $300 billion U.S. food and agriculture sector respond and recover from potential terrorist attacks and natural disasters, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) said in a report to Congress on Tuesday, two days after the 10 year anniversary of 9/11.

 

President Bush directed USDA and three other executive branch agencies in 2004 to establish a national policy to defend against agro-terrorism after documents confiscated from an al Qaeda training camp showed that the terrorist group has researched how to compromise the U.S. food supply.

 

In testimony to a Senate Homeland Security subcommittee, a GAO official said there still is no centralized coordination to oversee the federal agencies' overall progress in implementing the nation's agro-defense policy.

 

The report concludes that USDA does not have a department-wide strategy for setting priorities and allocating resources implementing its various responsibilities under the 2004 directive.

 

For example, although USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service has acquired supplies to respond to the 17 most damaging animal disease threats, vaccines and diagnostic test kits for certain diseases have either not yet been developed or may be too costly for the agency to purchase.

There also may not be sufficient workforce capacity to depopulate animals quickly in the event of a catastrophic outbreak of a highly contagious animal disease, such as foot-and-mouth, the report suggests. 

APHIS officials told congressional investigators that it could take as long as 80 days to depopulate a single feedlot with about 100,000 cattle.

GAO recommended nine corrective actions; four of which directly affect USDA. 

Sheryl Maddox, deputy director of USDA's Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Coordination, said the Department concurred with the recommendations and would work to implement them.

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