AMES, Iowa - A national committee led by an Iowa State University researcher is studying the country's preparedness in dealing with agricultural bioterrorism.

Harley Moon, the Frank K. Ramsey Endowed Chair in Veterinary Medicine, chairs the 12-member committee, which includes Helen Jensen, ISU professor of economics.

The Committee on Biological Threats to Agricultural Plants and Animals was formed earlier this year by the National Research Council (NRC), with support from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Agricultural Research Service. It will assess the country's strengths and weaknesses in preventing bioterrorism to crops and livestock, and determine if scientific and technological improvements are needed.

The NRC's decision to form the committee arose from an August 1999 meeting of agricultural stakeholders and experts to consider the need and feasibility for the study. "Since then, the intensive concerns surrounding the outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease in Europe have raised awareness of our vulnerability if someone wanted to damage the nation by attacking agriculture," said Moon. "Our study should be useful for improving our preparedness for not only intentional plant and animal threats, but also natural disease outbreaks."

Moon, an expert on infectious diseases of livestock, was director of the USDA's National Animal Disease Center in Ames from 1988 to 1995. Jensen heads the Food and Nutrition Policy Division of the Center for Agricultural and Rural Development, and conducts research on food safety and food security issues.

The committee's next meeting is Aug. 14-15 in Washington, D.C. The group will release a final report in June 2002.