Terrorism That Could Hit Our Bread Basket

by Diane Dimond on November 16, 2009

Contaminated Feed, Contaminated Beef

Contaminated Feed, Contaminated Beef

My husband says I worry too much. Naturally, I don’t agree. But there I was at the grocery store the other day and my mind began to work overtime.

Given the nature of the work I do – writing about crime and justice – I admit my brain doesn’t necessarily think like other people’s brains.

As I went about spending $271.52, which took a while, I noticed an unattended child in the cookie aisle. Fast as a cat he opened a bag, snatched a cookie and shoved it in his mouth. He then expertly sealed up the package again lickedy-split. No one was the wiser except for me.

In retrospect I think I should have stopped the boy, demanded he take me to his mother, been part of the ‘village’ that it takes to raise our children correctly. Honestly, there just wasn’t time, he was that fast.

The kid’s actions left me with the feeling that terrorist attacks on our food supply could also happen that fast.

At the milk display I thought about how easy it would be for someone who hates America to take a syringe full of poison and inject a few lethal drops into the top fold of several cartons. Who would ever notice a tiny needle hole?

Vulnerable to Agro-Terrorism

Our Food Supply - Vulnerable to Agro-Terrorism

Fresh, unwrapped merchandise like fruits, vegetables and baked goods could easily be sprinkled with something awful – I don’t want to elaborate lest I give criminals any ideas.

Being the daughter of a butcher I know that all it would take for someone bent on doing damage is to get a job in a store’s back room where food is prepared. A little of this in the hamburger as it’s being ground, a handful of that in a vat of potato salad and multiple mysterious illnesses and deaths could result.

Can you imagine the panic a pattern of poisonings would cause if they all happened on the same day in, say, New York, Miami, Chicago, Dallas, Seattle and Los Angeles? Just half a dozen terrorist sickos acting in concert would cause the media to make it a 24/7 story (“Is your food safe from the Food Terrorists? Tonight at 11!”) and all that coverage would most certainly embolden other extremists. It could be the beginning of an awful cycle.

Our government leaders don’t talk publicly about things like this. That’s because they don’t want to cause undue alarm. But make no mistake – terrorism of our food supply continues to be a big concern among Homeland Security types.

Among The Watchdogs

Among The Watchdogs

There’s a whole bunch of government agencies tasked with monitoring our nation’s food chain beginning in the fields where our produce and cattle come from. Since the September 11th attacks there have been several presidential directives to refine the roles each of these agencies play in protecting us. But the introduction of deadly diseases to our far-flung, unpatrolled produce fields and livestock herds still seems like easy pickings.

The Congressional Research Service reported a while back that, “some types of agro-terrorism could be relatively easily achieved and have significant economic impacts.” The report used scary buzz words and phrases like: bio-terrorism, major economic disruptions, a national security threat and a word I’d never heard, “Zoonotic.”

The CRS report warned, humans could be at risk in terms of food safety and public health if terrorists chose to taint our food supply with a Zoonotic, a “disease that is transmissible to humans.” And apparently because our country has done so well in keeping out foreign animal and plant diseases, which flourish in many other countries, our veterinarians often lack experience in how to spot or treat animals with these illnesses.

FBI Agro-Terrorism Exercise

FBI Agro-Terrorism Exercise

Swell. Our success in the past comes back to haunt us!

It’s true that not since 9-11 has there been a successful terrorist attack on American soil. But our power grids in major cities have been compromised, so have some major government computer systems and enemies from foreign lands can still cross our borders to pursue all manner of diabolical plans against us. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out there’s no closer-to-home place to strike a population than its food supply.

Let me ask you – when was the last time you saw a security guard in your grocery store? Are you confident that your market thoroughly screens the backgrounds of its employees? Yeah, not so much, right?

I can’t help it. As I stroll through the aisles of my local supermarket I see lots of opportunities for terrible people to do terrible things. I’ve vowed to check the packaging on everything I buy a lot more closely from now on.

Maybe my husband is right and I worry too much. Or maybe the possibility of agro-terrorism is something we should all worry more about.

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