WOOSTER, Ohio — Animal agriculture is a vulnerable target for activist groups and terrorists.
Attacking agriculture and the food system is truly an economic warfare strategy, according to Terry Etherton, animal scientist at Penn State University. Etherton spoke at the ninth annual Northeast Ohio Regional Dairy Conference.
“National security is dependent on food security,” he said. “The U.S. food system is robust, but it is also vulnerable.”
On the international level, an bioterrorism attack would disrupt the food supply and deny the United States the opportunity to export food to other countries.
On the domestic level, it would reduce the public’s confidence in the government’s ability to guarantee safe food and it would create consumer distrust in the food production system.
Today, terrorism is asymmetric warfare, Etherton said. One person can do a lot to disrupt society.
“Any terrorist attack is about fear, drawing attention to a cause, disrupting a broad spectrum of systems, and having serious economic impact,” he said. “A terrorist attack is about using social and political pressures to change our will and our society.”
Etherton said it is easy to talk about it, but there is no such thing as absolute prevention.
“Animal agriculture doesn’t want to think about its vulnerability,” he said. “We can’t come close to having a low risk food system.”
The greatest challenge, Etherton said, is that fewer farms are producing larger quantities of food. “We see a small geographic area accounting for a large percentage of the food production in the commercial market,” he said. “People get emotional about this for good reason.”