Agroterrorism is the deliberate introduction of a disease agent, either against livestock or into the food chain, for purposes of undermining stability and/or generating fear. Depending on the disease agent and vector chosen, it is a tactic that can be used either to generate or cause mass socioeconomic disruption or as a form of direct human aggression.
Agriculture and the general food industry remain absolutely critical to the social, economic and, arguably, political stability of the US, indirectly constituting roughly two percent of the country’s overall domestic gross domestic product (GDP) (Rand, 2004). One in eight people work in some component of agriculture – more if food production is included – making the industry one of the U.S.’ largest employers (Hines, 2003). Cattle and dairy farmers alone earn between $50 billion and $54 billion a year through meat and milk sales, while roughly $50 billion is raised every year through agricultural exports (Shell, 2003).
Unfortunately, the agricultural and food industries remain highly vulnerable to deliberate (and accidental) disruption as a result of impending criminal and terrorist threats. Terrorists have access to and know-how to use chemical and biological pathogens. Critical considerations in this regard include:
- The existence of a large number of agents that are both lethal and highly contagious to animals, many of which are not routinely vaccinated.
- The ease and rapidity by which infectious animal diseases are able to spread. An infectious outbreak at a farming facility would be extremely difficult to contain and could necessitate the wholesale destruction of all the animals.
- The proliferation of food processors lacking sufficient security and safety preparedness measures. Several thousand facilities exist in the U.S., the bulk of which are characterized by lax internal quality control. These sites represent ideal locations for the deliberate introduction of bacteria and toxins such as salmonella, E. coli and botulism.
- The increased production of genetically modified commodities. This particular development has served to exacerbate the potential threat of extremist violence being directed against both the food and agricultural industries. Problems in this regard have already occurred, with varying degrees of seriousness, throughout Western Europe, particularly, the UK and France.
- Disruption to the water supply. Without water, agriculture would cease to exist (Garewal, 2005).
The impact of a major agricultural / food-related disaster in the U.S. would be enormous, and could easily extend beyond the immediate agricultural community to affect other segments of society. It is possible to envision that it could cause mass economic destabilization, the destruction of agricultural commodities and loss of revenue, protective international trade embargoes to ban contaminated or infected meat, and the indirect poisoning of the populace, just to mention a few. One terrorist or a disgruntled employee who has access to your farm can destroy you; are you ready to be proactive?