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Food also seen as target of terrorists

Agricultural secretary says Americans shouldn’t take food safety for granted.
Thursday, September 28, 2006 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 3:15 p.m. CDT, Wednesday, July 16, 2008

KANSAS CITY — There hasn’t been a specific terrorist threat against the U.S. food supply, but Americans should not take the safety of their food for granted, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns said Wednesday. “Agricultural goods pass quickly from one nation to another nation, from state to state,” Johanns said. “But diseases and pathogens can travel just as quickly and as easily as trade, and they have no respect for borders.”

Johanns, who delivered the keynote address to about 1,000 delegates from 21 countries attending the second International Symposium on Agroterrorism, said the recent outbreak of E. coli in spinach shows how quickly food-borne illnesses spread and how tough they can be to trac “The bacterium that has infected some of our fresh spinach was not, to the best of our knowledge, the result of an intentional contamination,” Johanns said. “But

it illustrates how much damage can be inflicted by an intentional act on our food supply.”

Johanns said there was no “specific or current threat” to the agriculture or food sectors in the United States at this time, but preparation remained important.

“We know that there are individuals who want to harm us, and we are aware there are people with the knowledge and the capability of sabotaging our food supply,” Johanns said. “And so you see we have no choice, we must be prepared.”

Johanns pointed to steps the government has taken to ensure a safe food supply, including the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s animal identification system. He said more than 300,000 U.S. premises voluntarily registered for the animal identification system.

The Department of Agriculture wants to identify and tag each of the country’s more than 9 billion cows, pigs, chickens and other livestock by

2009 so it can track them within 48 hours of a report of disease.

The plan, which is now voluntary, has been opposed in Missouri by U.S. Sen. Jim Talent and U.S. Rep. Jo Ann Emerson, who introduced a bill that would prevent the animal identification system from becoming mandatory, largely because of concerns over costs and disclosure of farmers’ records to competitors.

Johanns also said the government was taking steps to keep overseas diseases and pathogens out of the United States and that the government was spending about $20 million to combat avian influenza worldwide.

He also pointed to an offshore pest information system and to a partnership with the Department of Human Services to develop an automated inspection system that would screen imported agricultural products in high-risk cargo.

“This would include remote digital imaging to quickly identify pests as well as a nationwide database of regulation violators,”he said.

Johanns said partnering with businesses and coming up with new ways to protect the food supply would be an ongoing concern of the administra-

tion.

“We are absolutely committed to listen to the private sector,” he said. “And we are committed to opening our imagination to innovations to protect our food and ag system.”


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