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9/11 and Agricultural Security

Solo and Small Firm

The events of September 11 accelerated congressional focus on the necessity of counterterrorism efforts and strengthening of critical infrastructure to better protect American agricultural production and resources. Because of the importance of agriculture to American economic, political, and social stability, addressing the bioterrorism threat to agriculture has taken on a new urgency.

For decades during the Cold War, both the United States and the Soviet Union researched numerous ways to destroy or severely damage each other’s agricultural systems. Both nations well understood the importance of agriculture. The same threat to American economic and political stability exists today on a much broader international scale. The reality of this threat has prompted policy makers to focus on measures to ensure American agricultural security.

History of Agricultural Biological Warfare

Government Sanctioned Agricultural bioterrorism. The first contemporary use of agricultural biological warfare originated in World War I during sabotage campaigns by Germany against the Allies. German efforts targeted draft animals, military cavalry, and food animals with anthrax and glanders in order to disrupt Allied supply and logistical efforts. During World War II, Germany experimented with the use of foot-and-mouth disease (FMD). Nazi experiments also were conducted against Russia by the use of potato beetles and other insects as well as weeds in cropping systems.1 Japan also engaged in crop destruction experiments, including the effects of fungi, bacteria, and nematodes on grains and vegetables grown in Manchuria.2

During World War II, biological warfare efforts were not limited to the Axis powers. Both the United States and Great Britain engaged in extensive plant research as a counterbalance to the Axis powers. In 1969, President Nixon barred offensive biological warfare.3

The Soviet Union also developed a variety of offensive biological agents, targeted at American and West European crops. Soviet scientists experimented with FMD, African swine fever, mutants of avian influenza, and other contagions to attack livestock production.4 It also had an active plant program focusing on wheat, barley, potatoes, and tobacco viruses.5 Recently, rogue states such as Iraq have pursued agricultural biological warfare methods by researching and experimenting with wheat stem rust and camel pox.6

Terrorist Application of Agricultural Bioterrorism. Terrorist organizations such as Al Qaida could utilize agricultural bioterrorism as an inexpensive and unsophisticated method for inflicting massive economic damage as well as undermine political stability of target countries. Agricultural interests are a prime target mainly because they are exposed, generally unprotected, and spread throughout a wide number of states or countries. The simple manner in which a bioterrorist attack could manifest itself illustrates the threat caused by such a terrorist incident. For example, introducing a pathogen to crops or animals could create damage and havoc much less costly or traceable than a weapon of mass destruction generally feared by many pundits.

Two recent such historical incidents include the use of mercury to contaminate Israeli citrus in 1978 and terrorist’s claims in Sri Lanka and Chile of contaminating tea and grapes with cyanide in 1985.7 The economic impact of bioagents would be far more devastating than these limited efforts.

Vulnerability of American Agricultural Resources to Biological Terrorist Attack?

Agriculture represents 13 percent of U.S. gross domestic product and accounted for $52 billion in exports in 2001.8 It is obvious that the economic impacts of biological agroterrorism would be felt throughout the U.S. and abroad. As an example, we need not look much farther than the damage caused by FMD in England and the European continent. FMD resulted in significant economic costs to the United Kingdom’s economy during the most recent outbreaks of the disease. The overall economic costs in the food and farming sectors of the UK economy totaled an estimated £5 billion, roughly $10 billion.9 This compares to an annual gross output of the entire UK agricultural sector of £25 billion.10

The UK economy suffered other economic costs associated with the outbreak of FMD. Outside the agricultural sector costs, the UK endured additional losses to the leisure and tourism sector of the economy. The UK Department of Environmental Food and Rural Affairs estimated that the leisure and tourism sector of the economy lost £5 to 6 billion pounds as a result of the outbreak of FMD in 2001.11

In the U.S., crop systems may have a high level of genetic homogeneity. If such is the case, lack of genetic diversity in three main food crops—wheat, corn, and soybeans—creates a potential danger that an entire crop may be susceptible to a released pathogen. Beginning in the 1990s only six varieties of corn accounted for 46 percent of the crop production, while nine varieties of wheat made up half of the domestic wheat crop.12 Localization and concentration of specific agricultural industries also causes reason for concern. Prior to the 1970s, most cattle and livestock operations were small-scale and numerous. However, as agriculture has become more industrial and corporate in nature, the number of specialized feedlots have increased with lots of over 32,000 head of cattle increasing to 42 percent of all feedlot capacity in this country.13 In 2001, the 10 largest feedlots increased their total capacity to 53 percent over the capacity in 1988.14 The 20 largest feedlots increased their capacity by 39 percent between 1988 and 2001.15 The 20 largest feedlots accounted for 24 percent of total steer capacity in the U.S. in 2001.16

Complicating this situation is the concentration of major crops in the breadbasket of the American midwest. A pathogen or disease released in this area could devastate U.S. agricultural production. One particularly poignant example of such a scenario occurred in 1970 during the U.S. corn blight epidemic. A virulent pathogen introduced by tradewinds devastated a genetically uniform corn variety. Losses were estimated at $1 billion.17

Florida’s agricultural sector includes a variety of raw agricultural commodities of importance to the state’s economy. The gross value of sales, or economic output of Florida’s agricultural products and services was $35.2 billion in the year 2000, expressed in 2002 dollars, including $19.4 billion in exports.18 Florida agriculture employed over 338,000 people and had an economic effect on over 648,000 jobs total.19 In all, agriculture represented 3.0 percent of the state’s economic output and 3.8 percent of employment.20

Concerns Before September 11

Even before September 11, the U.S. Department of Agriculture was aware of the threat to agriculture by identifying and addressing bioterrorism concerns. Since fiscal year 2000, there has been a budgetary increase of almost 40 percent for the agricultural quarantine inspection (AQI) program to heighten the level of contraband inspections at U.S. borders and ports of entry.21 Other activities include promoting coordination of state and federal agencies, agricultural interests, law enforcement, and emergency management.22 Additionally, the U.S. Forest Service maintains a law enforcement and investigations (LEI) program to deter and protect resources against domestic ecoterrorism.23

While some of these pre-September 11 efforts were originally aimed at emergency preparedness on management of exotic diseases or pests, not terrorist attacks, the USDA now seeks to reconcentrate and emphasize these efforts in fighting terrorism. The USDA has fostered the food safety and inspection service (FSIS) to develop the infrastructure needed to confront new biosecurity challenges. FSIS has more than 7,600 inspectors and veterinarians in meat, poultry, and egg product plants every day, and at ports of entry to prevent, detect, and act in response to food safety emergencies.24

FSIS has been protecting public health since 1906, when the Federal Meat Inspection Act (FMIA)25 signaled the real beginning of domestic inspection of meat and meat food products in the U.S. Poultry inspection began in 1926 on a voluntary basis, and in 1957, Congress passed the Poultry Products Inspection Act (PPIA),26 which established mandatory, continuous, daily inspection of poultry products. The 1967 Wholesome Meat Act27 and the 1968 Wholesome Poultry Products Act28 amended the FMIA and PPIA, extending federal requirements to imported products and to state meat and poultry inspection programs. These acts ensure uniformity in regulation of products shipped interstate, intrastate, and in foreign commerce. The Egg Products Inspection Act of 197029 required USDA to ensure that egg products are safe, wholesome, and accurately labeled. In 1995, responsibility for egg products inspection was transferred from USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service to FSIS.

Congress, too, recognized the threat to agriculture that terrorism posed prior to September 11. In March 1999, Senator Richard Lugar sponsored a Senate resolution to express the sense of the Congress on the need for the U.S. to defend the American agricultural and food supply system from sabotage and terrorist threats. Ironically, on September 10, 2001, the Agroterrorism Prevention Act of 200130 was referred to House committee for consideration. The bill sought to enhance penalties for animal and plant enterprise terrorism. The bill also sought to prohibit the use of explosives or arson against the enterprises, providing for the death penalty under specified circumstances. Sponsored by Representative Nethercutt, the bill sought to establish and maintain a national clearinghouse for information on incidents of crime and terrorism committed against plant and animal enterprises.31 Part of this effort was to develop a comprehensive security report by universities, colleges and other organizations to complete risk and threat assessments posed to the agricultural sector in order to reduce risks posed by terrorism.32 The bill would suddenly become only part of the efforts of Congress to evaluate and assess risks to American society and agriculture after September 11.

Federal Response Since September 11

Since September 11, a number of major pieces of legislation have been quickly introduced in Congress to deal with the threat of biological attack against the nation’s agricultural and consumer food resources. Although numerous pieces of legislation have been drafted for consideration, Congressional efforts are summarized in a few main pieces of pending legislation.

Agricultural Bioterrorism Countermeasures Act of 2001. Introduced shortly after the September 11 attacks, the Agricultural Bioterrorism Countermeasures Act of 2001 (ABC Act)33 was a clear indication that Congress viewed as insufficient existing federal programs to protect American Agriculture from terrorist attack. This bill expanded agricultural research service programs to protect domestic food supplies and establish a coordinated program of science-based countermeasures to address agricultural bioterrorism. These efforts included partnerships with institutions of higher learning to develop long-term biosecurity programs. The intent of the bill was to strengthen U.S. research and development capacity to respond to the threat of agricultural bioterrorism by emphasizing the need for the USDA to address long term rather than short term biosecurity threats. This bill was left in committee and was never brought to the floor of Congress for any vote.

Protecting the Food Supply from Bioterrorism Act. The Protecting the Food Supply from Bioterrorism (PFSB) Act,34 sponsored by Senator Hillary Clinton, seeks to amend the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act to add provisions regarding protecting U.S. food supplies from terrorist threats. In addition, the act seeks to amend the Public Health Service Act to provide funds for food security, research, and information resources for health professionals concerning diagnosis of bioterrorism caused illness. The PFSB Act requires any facility engaged in processing or handling food products for consumption to register with the Secretary of Health and Human Services. Pertinent parts of the bill are provisions seeking to strengthen import inspections of foreign food products and provide information resources for health professionals concerning the diagnosis and detection of illnesses caused as a result of bioterrorist attack. This legislation also languished in committee and was never voted upon by Congress.

The Bioterrorism Preparedness Act of 2001

Both the U.S. House and Senate, however, passed comprehensive bioterrorism preparedness legislation, the Public Health Security and Bioterrorism Preparedness and Response Act of 2002 (BPA).35 Signed into law in June 2002, the BPA incorporated many of the ideas and objectives of other bioterrorism legislation, such as the ABC Act and the PFSB Act. Among the goals of the BPA are to: 1) provide federal assistance to state and local governments in the event of a biological attack; 2) improve public health, hospital, laboratory, communications, and emergency response preparedness and responsiveness at the state and local levels; 3) rapidly develop and manufacture needed therapies, vaccines, and medical supplies; and 4) enhance the safety of the nation’s food supply and protect its agriculture from biological threats and attacks.

The BPA specifically creates numerous mechanisms for protecting the nation’s food supply. The BPA granted the Food and Drug Administration the authority to use qualified employees from other agencies and departments to help conduct food inspections. Any domestic or foreign facility that manufactures or processes food for use in the U.S. must register with the FDA. Importers must provide at least four hours notice of the food, the country of origin, and the amount of food to be imported. The FDA also receives authority to prevent “port-shopping” by marking food shipments denied entry at one U.S. port to ensure such shipments do not reappear at another U.S. port.

The BPA gives additional tools to the FDA to ensure those who manufacture, process, pack, transport, distribute, receive, hold, or import food maintain proper records necessary to protect food shipments and supplies. The BPA also provides the FDA the authority to detain food after an inspection for a limited period of time if such food is believed to present a threat of serious adverse health consequences or death to humans or animals.

The act includes several measures to help safeguard the nation’s agriculture industry from the threats of bioterrorism. Toward this end, it contains a series of grants and incentives to help encourage the development of vaccines and antidotes to protect the nation’s food supply, livestock, and crops, as well as preventing crop and livestock diseases from finding their way to our fields and feedlots.

Federal Agency Activity

Federal executive agencies have also responded with plans to reinforce and protect America’s food supply. The President has provided new funding in an effort to give the USDA the financial capability to take on its expanded biosecurity role. In January 2002, he signed into law the FY 2002 Defense Appropriations Act,36 which includes $328 million in emergency funding for the USDA to further protect the public by strengthening essential programs and services related to biosecurity issues. Under this legislation, the FSIS received $16.5 million for security upgrades and bioterrorism protection.37 Of this amount, $10 million is allocated to conduct a food safety/bioterrorism protection program.38 This includes education and specialized training for inspection personnel; technical assistance for state, local, and international food safety authorities; a biosecurity awareness campaign targeted to the general public and the regulated industry; and expanded FSIS laboratory capabilities to test meat and poultry products for bacterial and chemical agents. Money has also been specifically allocated to strengthen biosecurity, physical security, cyber-security, and telecommunications at mission-critical facilities as well as to hire additional inspectors for imported meat and poultry.

The USDA’s efforts are being coordinated with the new Department of Homeland Security (DHS). The departments are working together in a coordinated effort across numerous federal agencies and departments to avoid lapses in communication that would be critical to preventing any future bioterrorist effort.

The USDA has also created its own internal body to better coordinate its biosecurity efforts with the DHS and other federal agencies. The new Homeland Security Council was organized to work in partnership with the DHS, the National Security Council, and other departments. The council is responsible for establishing overall USDA Homeland Security policy, coordinating department-wide homeland security issues, tracking USDA progress on homeland security objectives, and appointing a representative to interagency or other external groups. The council also ensures that information, research, and resources are shared and activities are coordinated with other federal agencies.

The USDA has also taken steps to create proactive FSIS Food Biosecurity Action Teams (F-BAT). The F-BATs act to coordinate and facilitate all activities pertaining to biosecurity, countering terrorism, and emergency preparedness within FSIS. F-BAT also serves as FSIS’s voice with other governmental agencies and internal and external constituents on biosecurity issues.

Florida’s Response Since September 11

Florida state government has also taken action to protect its agricultural sector from terrorist attack. Florida Commissioner of Agriculture Charles Bronson met with representatives from Canada and Mexico to discuss international biosecurity and trade issues relevant to the threat posed by bioterrorism. In addition, Bronson visited and observed border inspection stations to review procedures for entry of animals and plants into the country.

Florida’s biosecurity efforts include interdiction stations, animal and plant health protection measures, food safety protection, and animal and zoonotic diagnostic procedures. The Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (DACS) is responsible for manning Florida’s 22 interdiction stations located in north Florida. Historically, the stations’ principal function has been to inspect the roughly 12 million trucks that enter Florida each year to prevent plant and animal pest and diseases from entering the state and to monitor compliance with trade regulations. Since September 11, these stations have also played a major role in homeland security.

Florida’s legislature was also active in the wake of September 11. During the 2001 Special Sessions as well as the 2002 Regular Session, bills were introduced to address the terrorism threats. One piece of legislation designed by the legislature was to deal with terrorist acts aimed at Florida’s food, water, and medicine supplies. This bill expanded the scope of F.S. §859.01, which already dealt with penalties for the introduction of poisons to Florida’s food and water supply.39 This new legislation expanded the existing law to include the introduction of or adding of any poison with food, water, or medicine or introducing or commingling any bacterium, radioactive material, or virus. The revised §859.01 also prohibits the willful introduction of bacterium, radioactive material, virus, or other chemical compound to any spring, well, or reservoir. The bill, effective as of December 2001, further criminalized acts against the state’s food industry and related resources critical to state agriculture.40

Two other bills passed by the Florida Legislature also acted to strengthen the state’s ability to monitor the use of pesticides that could be used to damage agricultural products.41 Under the new legislation, the state is authorized to empower the DACS to establish regulatory and record keeping requirements related to monitoring aircraft and pesticides used in aerial spraying. The bill also addressed the storage of pesticides and fertilizers. These bills provide state agencies with additional authority to prevent the use of legal products for terrorist purposes.

The most recent legislative session also resulted in additional regulations aimed specifically at protecting Florida’s food supply. Legislation passed by the Florida House42 and the Florida Senate,43 in an identical bill, created a permanent advisory council in an effort to ensure the safety of Florida’s food supply. The Senate and House bills create a new statute, F.S. §500.033, under which the Florida Food Safety and Food Security Advisory Council was created.44 The council, placed under the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, is appointed by the commissioner of agriculture and will serve as a forum for presenting, investigating, and evaluating issues related to food safety.45


Agriculture plays an immense economic, political, and social part in America’s great stability. For many years, policymakers were slow to address the vulnerability of agriculture to a bioterrorist threat. The tragic events of September 11 have accelerated the necessity of federal and state governments to address counterterrorism efforts and the strengthening of critical infrastructure to better protect American agricultural production and resources. Federal and state agencies, as they learn more about the threats posed to both state and national agricultural assets, can build upon current programs instituted by the federal and state governments necessary to better protect the country. Congress has acted to increase funding both for agencies and programs that have as their main purpose protection of the nation’s food supply and resources. This is critical to the nation’s agricultural health. The actions of state legislatures and agencies, such as those that the State of Florida have taken, show the importance of state level activity to protect assets that the greater national net may fail to take in. Only through continued efforts of cooperation between federal and state governments and their agencies, can we avoid an agricultural terrorist event.

1 Johnathan Ban, Agricultural Biological Warfare: An Overview, The Arena, No. 9 (June 2000).

2 Erhard Geissler and Sheldon Harris: Biological Warfare from the Middle Ages to 1945 p. 139 (Oxford University Press 1999).

3 R. Harris and J. Paxman, A Higher Form of Killing: The Secret Story of Chemical and Biological Warfare (Hill and Wang, The Noonday Press, 1982).

4 Defense Intelligence Agency, Chemical and Biological Warfare Capabilities of USSR 245–247 (1977).

5 Id.

6 UNSCOM. Eighth UNSCOM Report to the Security Council, October 1995.

7 Johnathan Ban, Chilean Grapes: A Case Study, Monterey Institute for International Studies, Washington, D.C. (in forthcoming volume edited by John Parchini).

8 Economic Research Service, USDA, Amber Waves, February 2003.

9 Department of Environmental Food and Rural Affairs UK. Economic Consequences of the FMD Outbreak on the Wider Economy in the UK. (2001).

10 Id.

11 Id.

12 Union of Concerned Scientists, Food and Environment: Industrial Agriculture: Features and Policy (March 2001). (accessed 5/25/03).

13 USDA. Livestock and Meat Production in the United States: An Overview (2002). (accessed 6/7/03).

14 Id.

15 Id.

16 Id.

17 A.J. Ullstrup, The impact of the southern corn leaf blight epidemics of 1970-71, Annu Rev. Phytopathol 10:37-50 (1972).

18 A. Hodges and D. Mulkey, Regional Economic Impacts of Florida’s Agricultural and Natural Resource Industries,, University of Florida, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.

19 Id.

20 Id.

21 Secretary Ann M. Veneman, Briefing to Reporters, FY 2002 Budget Monday, April 09, 2001. (accessed 6/7/03).

22 Id.

23 Id.

24 U.S. Department of Agriculture, Biosecurity and the Food Supply Food Safety and Inspection Service, Biosecurity and Food Supply (2001).

25 21 U.S.C. §602 et seq., Federal Meat Inspection Act (1906).

26 21 U.S.C. §451 et seq., Poultry Inspection Act (1957).

27 21 U.S.C. §672 et seq., Wholesome Meat Act (1967).

28 21 U.S.C. §451 et seq., Wholesome Poultry Products Act (1968).

29 21 U.S.C. §1031 et seq., Egg Products Inspection Act of 1970 (1970).

30 H.R. 2060, The Agroterrorism Prevention Act of 2001 (2001).

31 Id.

32 Id.

33 Agricultural Bioterrorism Countermeasures Act §1563 (2001).

34 Protecting the Food Supply from Bioterrorism Act §1551 (2001).

35 The Public Health Security And Bioterrorism Preparedness And Response Act of 2002, Pub. L. No. 107-188 (as enacted) (2002).

36 2002 Defense Appropriations Act, Pub. L. No. 107-38 (2001).

37 Id.

38 Id.

39 Florida Senate Bill 10-C (ch. 2001-358) Relating to Poisoning (2001).

40 Id.

41 Florida House Bill 0809 Relating to Aircraft/Application of Pesticides. (2002); Florida House Bill 0731 Relating to Public Records/Pesticides/Aerial Spraying (2002).

42 Florida House Bill 339, Relating to Food Safety and Security (2003).

43 Florida Senate Bill 1218, Relating to Food Safety and Security (2003).

44 Id.

45 Id.

Aaron Leviten is an attorney practicing in Orlando. He guest lectures on pesticide litigation at the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences of the University of Florida and the Levin College of Law at the University of Florida.

Michael T. Olexa is a professor in the Department of Food and Resource Economics of the University of Florida College of Agricultural and Life Sciences and director of the university’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Agricultural Law Center, and is a member of the executive council of the General Practice, Solo and Small Firm Section and chair of the Agricultural Law Committee of The Florida Bar.

This column is submitted on behalf of the General Practice, Solo and Small Firm Section, Linda J. Barnaby, chair, and David A. Donet, editor.

Solo and Small Firm