USDA, states step up alerts; senator unveils ‘agroterrorism’ bill

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COLUMBUS – Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia are three of 32 states receiving nearly $2 million in grants to bolster emergency animal disease prevention, preparedness, response, and recovery systems.

Funding will be used for training, equipment purchases, and to conduct emergency preparedness exercises.

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman also called for a permanent agriculture infrastructure investment fund that continuously protects agriculture.

“We live in a different world. We need to take a stronger, more proactive approach to the infrastructure needs of our producers,” said Veneman. “This includes examining our pest and animal disease protection systems, our labs, research, and food safety programs.”

“We cannot afford to risk our food and agriculture system.”

‘Agroterrorism’ bill. Last week, U.S. Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., announced plans to introduce a bill to fund greater protection against threats of ‘agroterrorism,’ such as introducing a highly contagious animal disease like mad cow disease.

The legislation, which Roberts unveiled Oct. 12, calls for spending $1.1 billion next year and about $271,000 million in each of the next 10 years in a crash protection and prevention program.

“Frankly, I am very worried,” Roberts said. “At least one of the terrorists on the FBI’s most wanted list has agriculture training.”

“The loss of markets resulting from the introduction of these pathogens would be devastating to our nation’s economy,” Roberts said. “Markets would collapse. Our ability to deliver the nation’s food supplies would be at grave risk.”

Roberts’ bill would earmark the funding to update USDA facilities at The Plum Island Animal Disease Laboratory in New York, the National Animal Disease Center in Iowa, the Southwest Poultry Research Laboratory in Georgia and the Animal Disease Research Laboratory in Wyoming.

The funds would also provide grants for the development of vaccines and antidotes for plant or animal diseases. A rapid response plan would also be funded and developed through universities, the USDA and the ag industry.

Ohio on alert. In an open letter to the agriculture industry Oct. 12, Ohio Agriculture Director Fred L. Dailey urged individuals to watch for potential follow-up acts of terrorism.

He said the Ohio Department of Agriculture veterinarians, livestock inspectors and other field personnel have been on full alert since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. State surveillance for foreign animal diseases has been increased since Sept. 11.

“Our state’s livestock, animal feed, and human food and water supply are acknowledged by experts as potential vehicles for biological attack,” Dailey warned in the letter.

He said products used for animal health, plant growth and pest control can be misused as agents “to attack people or places.”

Dailey issued recommendations to fertilizer dealers, livestock producers, veterinarians and farm employees to report anything suspicious. He asked business and farm owners to discuss emergency procedures with employees.

Anyone suspecting problems or discovering evidence of tampering is asked to call local law enforcement officials. Symptoms of foreign animal diseases should be reported to the Ohio Department of Agriculture, 800-300-9755.

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