GRAND ISLAND, Neb. (AP)--The government is taking precautions to protect America's food supply from sabotage by terrorists, one Nebraska expert says.
While securing the food supply against terrorism is a monumental task, the government is putting in protocols to address the potential vulnerability, said John Rupnow, professor of food science and technology at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
"All companies have to register with the Food and Drug Administration, and all foreign imports have to inform the FDA when import items are coming into the United States," Rupnow said.
But that task can be overwhelming considering the number of companies producing food and importing it into the United States, he said.
"You can't look at every grape in a shipment," Rupnow said.
Rupnow is working to inform others of the dangers and precautions being taken. He was to speak April 18 at a meeting of the Nebraska Association of Emergency Management in Grand Island.
Rupnow said examples of biological warfare can be found throughout recorded history, from the Tartans catapulting plague victims into besieged cities to European settlers giving American Indians blankets contaminated with small pox.
Nations came together to ban the use of biological weapons following World War I, he said.
"The ban really didn't have any teeth, because it still allowed the development and stockpiling and research of those weapons," Rupnow said. "In addition to the natural environmental factors that select micro-organisms, we are capable now of developing some horrendous things."
The difference between biological warfare and agroterrorism, Rupnow said, is that agroterrorism targets animals and crops with disease-causing agents in an attempt to disrupt the economy.
With Nebraska as one of the nation's leading food-producing states, the threat of agroterrorism is taken seriously--especially at the University of Nebraska, he said.
"Anyone who is working with biological agents that could be used against crops and animals has to register with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Department of Agriculture," Rupnow said.
When assessing potential risks to Nebraska's agriculture industry, disseminating a biological agent in crops would not be practical, because of how complicated the process of doing it would be, he said.
"However, on the animal side of things, the potential is there," Rupnow said.
He pointed to the discovery in December of the United States' first case of mad cow disease in a Washington state cow as an example of the meat industry's vulnerability.
While not related to terrorism, it pointed to how just one isolated case can be economically devastating to the nation. Following the discovery, more than 50 countries banned U.S. beef.
The impact of that ban could be felt throughout Nebraska. In Grand Island, the city's largest employer, Swift & Co., had to layoff or reduce the hours of its workers because of the loss of export markets.
Meatpacker Fremont Beef Co. in Fremont had to lay off 49 workers--about 60 percent of its work force.