(Oct. 6) KANSAS CITY, Mo. — While food security concerns and federal precautions against terror acts have never been greater, Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns said free and open agricultural trade is more important than ever.

Speaking Sept. 27 at the 2006 International Symposium on Agroterrorism, Johanns detailed the strategic planning that has been done to both prevent and prepare for terror attacks on U.S. agriculture.

“The threat to food and agriculture is real, but we are making great progress in mitigating the threat,” he said.

Equally important to food defense efforts, Johanns said, is the international application of fair and science-based trade rules for agricultural trade.

“It is important we are not closing the border to one another when there is no reason,” he said.

PREPARATION

While he noted there is no evidence that suggests intentional tampering, the food borne illnesses caused by E. coli in spinach in recent weeks illustrates how much damage could potentially be inflicted on the confidence in the U.S. food supply.

“We know that there are people with the knowledge and capability of sabotaging our food supply. … we must be vigilant,” he said.

One part of ensuring safety and preventing massive damage to the food chain is traceability, and Johanns noted USDA’s work on the National Animal Identification System, Source Verification Programs and Export Verification Programs.

Under the direction of President Bush and the participation of several federal agencies, Johanns said an early warning system for attacks on the food supply has been put in place.

Determining the vulnerabilities of agriculture has been undertaken with a program called Strategic Partnership Program for Agroterrorism. The program is a joint effort between the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the USDA, the Food and Drug Administration and the Department of Homeland Security.

He said the USDA also is partnering with the Department of Homeland Security to develop an automated inspection system that would screen imported agricultural problems in high risk cargo. The system’s capabilities will include remote digital imaging to quickly identify pests and a national database of regulation violators.

If intentional contamination does occur, Johanns said the USDA is poised to set up an incident command center that allows for a unified strategy for federal, state and local officials.

Johanns stresses reliance on science-based rules
Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns responds to a question from Geni Wren, editor of Bovine Veterinarian, during a round-table discussion with The Packer and Vance Publishing Corp. editors on Sept. 27 before his speech at the International Symposium on Agroterrorism in Kansas City, Mo.