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A catastrophic terrorist attack would be highly traumatic for the country, both at a personal level at the loss of life or property as well as economic devastation affecting infrastructure and industry. However, defending and mitigating such terrorist attacks is highly challenging and complex, requiring specialized training and equipment. This paper will explore the after-effects of a major terrorist attack on U.S. agriculture.
Agro-terrorism is a widely recognized national security threat, a subset of bioterrorism. It can be defined as the introduction of plant or animal disease or any other attack on the agricultural sector to cause economic loss, undermine social stability, and generate fear. The ultimate objective for agro-terrorism is to cause economic damage and lead to loss of confidence among the population in the government. Agriculture is not commonly a priority target, but because of the importance of the industry, potentially negative impacts on human health and systems, and economic damages, it may be selected. This is further exacerbated by the vulnerabilities such as geographic disbursement, relatively insecure environments, and many points of transport allowing the introduction of bioagents into the supply chain (White et al., 2010). It is the responsibility of the FDA and DHS Agro division to monitor, protect, and respond to acts of agro-terrorism.
Impacts of an Agro-Terrorism Attack
The impacts of an agro-terrorism attack would be extensive, first and foremost affecting the economy. Such attacks are unlikely to directly affect human life due to the precautionary and mitigation mechanisms in place so their target would be an economic loss. It would result in extensive economic expenses from containment of diseased products, properly destroying them, and the costs of lost production in the specific location, supply chain, or industry put on hold while the response is ongoing. This would likely send ripple effects through the economy due to such high reliance on agriculture by several businesses including food and retail grocery, food and farm equipment manufacturing, and others. The federal government will also likely have to support the sector and pay compensation to producers. Finally, an act of agro-terrorism will negatively impact the 21% of agricultural output that the U.S. exports internationally, as countries will place restrictions on products for safety precaution (White et al., 2010). Combined, these costs are likely to reach billions of dollars in damages even in a relatively minor agro-terrorism attack.
Other than the economic impacts, an attack on the agricultural sector could undermine public confidence. The population may question the government’s ability to protect critical infrastructure and industries that virtually allow the nation to survive by providing it with food. Measures being taken as a response to the attack such as the mass slaughter of exposed animals will draw significant criticism from the public due to optics despite its necessity. Public health scares may occur as fear of potential foodborne outbreaks or animal pathogen spread is possible, causing mass anxiety and social unrest (Chalk, 2004). Both short- and long-term impacts on agricultural productivity will be evident such as reduction in quantity and quality of yield as well as the development of resistant variants of crops, extra costs of harvesting, and grading agricultural products among some of the significant barriers that the already struggling agricultural sector (particularly individual farmers) would have to overcome (Wheelis et al., 2004).
Agro-terrorism is a prominent national security threat because of its low tech but high impact consequences. This type of bioterrorism does not require much-specialized expertise and focuses on highly vulnerable targets, but as evident, presents extensive threats to the U.S. economy and public health and confidence. While multiple mechanisms exist in the U.S. to monitor agricultural yields and prevent undesirable pathogens from spreading, the system is far from perfect and provides gaping holes which can be abused by nefarious agents in the attempts to disrupt a core element to the country’s economy and self-reliance.
Chalk, P. (2004). Agroterrorism. RAND Research Brief. Web.
Wheelis, M., Casagrande, R., & Madden, L. V. (2002). Biological attack on agriculture: Low-tech, high-impact bioterrorism. BioScience, 52(7), 569. Web.
White, R., Markowski, T., & Collins, K. (2010). The United States Department of Homeland Security: An overview (2nd ed.). Pearson Learning Solutions.