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Is Our Food Supply Safe?

Is Our Food Supply Safe?Farmers must become the first line of defense against terrorist attacks on the U.S. food supply, says a Tufts expert.

No. Grafton, Mass. [09.25.02] The recent Mad Cow disease outbreak in Europe - which resulted in $5.6 billion in financial losses -- showed just how disrupting a livestock disease can be to a major food supply. With fears of terrorism on the rise, some experts say America's farms could be a tempting - and vulnerable - target. The country's food supply can be protected, says a Tufts expert, but it requires farmers to form the first line of defense.

"The rules of the game have changed," Tufts' Dr. George Saperstein - an associate dean of research at Tufts' School of Veterinary Medicine - told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Government agencies were able to prevent Europe's Mad Cow outbreak from reaching U.S. soil, but Saperstein says stopping a terrorist plot is a much more complicated task. Infecting livestock with a disease like "Mad Cow" could be both inexpensive and relatively easy.

"The sheer size of the American livestock and agriculture industry also makes it hard to defend again such low-tech weapons," reported the Post-Dispatch. "And American farms are so consolidated that a disease could spread rapidly. Missouri, where livestock accounts for 60 percent of the state's net farm income, would be especially hard hit."

While they haven't received as much attention as other potential threats, attacks on the nation's food supply could occur, Saperstein told the newspaper.

"Certainly, such a scenario is possible," he told the Post-Dispatch. "It wouldn't be tough to smuggle (in) an infectious agent and infect our livestock."

Some steps have already been taken by the Federal Government to secure the nation's farms.

"In January, President George W. Bush signed into law a defense appropriations bill that included $328 million in emergency funding for the USDA to boost security," reported the Post-Dispatch. "Among other things, that entails hiring additional inspectors and veterinarians and expanding its ability to test meat and poultry for bacterial and chemical agents."

But legislation can only do so much.

"Those who sit in government offices don't sit on farms," the Tufts expert told the newspaper. "We shouldn't sit and wait for the government to do our job for us."

Farmers, Saperstein said, may be in position to provide the best defense.

"The system is in place," he told the Post-Dispatch. "It's up to us to raise the red flag."

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