Hoping to increase its chances of attracting millions of dollars in anti-terrorism funding to Columbia, MU played host to the Missouri Summit on Agro-terrorism on Friday.
Agro-terrorism is the deliberate importation of harmful pests or plant or animal diseases. Since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, this threat has become a top concern of U.S. anti-terrorism officials.
Lori Seymour, program coordinator of the UM system’s Homeland Security program, said Friday’s all-day summit was held because the Federal Homeland Security Department is trying to develop a plan for improving the nation’s agro-terrorism defenses. She said MU is expecting that the plan will call for the creation of two centers for excellence on agro-terrorism at two college campuses.
MU is leading a consortium of universities and research facilities that are trying to make Columbia the site of one of the centers, Seymour said. Calling itself the Midwest Alliance, the group includes the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center in St. Louis, Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, the Midwest Research Institute in Kansas City and Washington University in St. Louis.
Seymour said the centers will be created to look at ways “to prevent, detect and deter agro-terrorism.”
“We’re gearing up to compete for that award (of receiving a center) because it will mean millions of dollars for our university, our partners and the state,” she said.
Seymour said the reason the summit came to MU is because of its diverse resources.
The university is the only campus in the United States to have an agriculture school, a medical school, a veterinarian school and the Research Reactor Center all in one location. This combination allows for multidisciplinary collaboration that is essential to addressing the problems within agro-terrorism, Seymour said.
On Friday, 14 speakers, including Missouri senators Jim Talent and Kit Bond gave presentations pertaining to areas dealing with agro-terrorism. Topics covered included plant and animal infectious disease, public health education and environmental management.
Karel Schubert, vice president for technology management and science administration of the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center, spoke about food security.
“Agro-terrorists could directly affect human and animal health through the use of plant pathogens and biological toxins,” he said. “Acts of agro-terrorism could directly impact our economy, our food supply and our health and safety.”