It's 2003, more than a year after the tragic 9-11 terrorist attacks. I'm thankful those events are behind us and that we're in a more vigilant posture.
Still, is there any reason for agriculture to feel safer or more confident now about how to deal with bioterrorism?
Frankly, it remains a little pie-in-the-sky for me. Generally, I still associate terrorism as a big-city problem, not something that knocks on rural America's door.
But I'm dead wrong and I know it. The potential for terrorists to infect our livestock or crops with some rare, deadly pathogen is not that absurd.
After hearing Ray Briscuso, executive director of BIO (Biotechnology Industry Organization), I'm hopeful that we're indeed better prepared and more aware of what to do. He says, “Industry and government have made substantial strides in the last year. And we're bullish on the opportunities ahead to fight bioterrorism.”
BIO was formed in 1993 and consists of major biotech companies, including the Monsantos and DuPonts of the world. Many of those companies have joined together to share their security efforts. For example, Briscuso says an employment security screening system is in progress to gather better employee information before authorizing access to biotech labs around the country. BIO also has an activist monitoring system in place that provides alerts on a regular basis to members of its security committee.
Did you know, for example, that an activist group got caught wiping ricin, a toxic substance, on police car door handles in Minnesota in the early 1990s? Luckily, those involved were caught and no one was affected. That type of information is now disseminated throughout the BIO network.
Fortunately, agriculture is far from falling behind in its fight against terrorism. In fact, Briscuso claims ag companies have had such tight security measures in place that other companies are now using their defense measures as models.
So quietly, behind the scenes, agriculture has been vigilant. And that will likely continue, even accelerate now that the Department of Homeland Security bill has passed.
Twenty-two federal agencies with annual budgets totaling $40 billion and a workforce of more than 170,000 will be watching and coordinating with each other — much like agriculture has already been doing. A major thrust of the new department will be making the various agencies' computer and e-mail systems compatible and consolidating terrorist watch lists.
Actions like those should make us all feel safer. Thanks to anyone and everyone who plays a part.