(Sept. 28) KANSAS CITY, Mo. — It’s suicide bombs, not beetles and bacteria, that Islamic terror groups are using to disrupt Western governments.

However, reducing the vulnerability of American agriculture to terror threats is needed if the U.S. seeks to take away some potentially tempting targets and enhance the nation’s long-term security, speakers at the 2006 International Symposium on Agroterrorism said Sept. 26.

Attacks against agriculture are unlikely to constitute a primary form of terrorist aggression because they lack visible, immediate effects and shock value, speakers noted.

Since 1912, there have been 12 documented cases involving the offensive use of biological agents against agriculture, of which only one was considered terroristic, said David Kaplan, director of emergency and domestic programs for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.

However, he said, agroterrorism has potential appeal as a secondary mode of attack.

“The economic fallout from a large scale strike (on agriculture) is likely to resonate with the agenda of the contemporary international jihadist network,” he said.

Donald Huber, professor at Purdue University, West Lafayette, Ind., told the crowd of about 1,000 attendees that just 11 crops provide 95% of the world’s food.

In America, he said agriculture’s bounty allows a buffer against inflation, increases public confidence and improves balance of payments through exports. In total, agriculture contributes $1 trillion in total economic effect each year, he said.

With 6% of the world’s population, the U.S. accounts for 11% of the world’s food supply.

As efficient as U.S. agriculture is, he said overall losses from pests now are as high as 50% — with 14% attributed to weeds, 10% post to harvest losses, 13% from pathogens and 15% from other spoilage.

Even a marginally successful attack on the U.S. food supply could drive up prices dramatically, he said.

During the Cold War, U.S. scientists knew what varieties of stem rust could infect Russia’s wheat varieties and bring that country to its knees within 18 months, Huber said.

Under a worst-case scenario, terror groups could covertly use a few pounds of hard-to-trace pathogens on U.S. crops or livestock.

The unfortunate reality for growers is that once pests and diseases are introduced to American farms, they are virtually impossible to remove, Huber said.