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Johns Hopkins Center for Public Health Preparedness

Bioterrorism and Food Safety

Food terrorism is an act or threat of deliberate contamination of food for human consumption with chemical, biological or radionuclear agents for the purpose of causing injury or death to civilian populations and/or disrupting social, economic or political stability.Terrorists can attack our food supply at several stages along the food chain by:

  • Targeting livestock and crops during production, harvesting, storage or transport (this is called agricultural bioterrorism or agroterrorism.)
  • Targeting processed foods during the processing, manufacturing, storage, transport, distribution or service of such foods (this is called terrorism targeting processed foods.)

Agricultural Bioterrorism

This type of bioterrorism is directed toward livestock and crops. An agroterrorism attack in the U.S. would likely be a part of economic warfare. Economic warfare is the intentional harming of a nation’s agricultural or ecological infrastructure by use of a biologic weapon. The U.S. livestock industry alone has annual revenues of approximately $150 billion and is a prime target for economic warfare.

The Agricultural Bioterrorism Protection Act of 2002 is a sub-part of the Public Health Security and Bioterrorism Preparedness Act of 2002. It was designed to improve the ability of the U.S. government to prevent, prepare for and respond to bioterrorism and other public health emergencies that could threaten American agriculture.

Terrorism Targeting Processed Foods
This type of terrorism involves the contamination of food products during processing, manufacturing, storage, transport, distribution or service. Depending on the type of contaminated food and the biological agent, an outbreak could be slow, diffuse and initially unremarkable, or it could result in an explosive epidemic. The government has developed a variety of prevention, surveillance and control initiatives and programs aimed at this type of terrorism.

The Public Health Security and Bioterrorism Preparedness Response Act of 2002 was designed to improve the ability of the U.S. to prevent, prepare for and respond to bioterrorism and other public health emergencies.

Additional Resources

USDA (U.S. Department of Agriculture)
The bioterrorism protection effort of the USDA includes:

  • Protecting U.S. borders from invasive pests and diseases
  • Increasing safeguarding personnel at meat and poultry slaughter and processing plants
  • Protecting the health of farm animals, crops and natural resources.

APHIS (Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service)
The APHIS has been designated by the Secretary of the USDA as the implementing agency for the provisions of the Agricultural Bioterrorism Protection Act of 2002.

  • The Act requires that entities (such as research laboratories, universities, vaccine companies, etc.) that possess, use or transfer agents or toxins deemed a threat to animal or plant health must be registered with the APHIS.
  • APHIS and USDA created a list of the agents and toxins that pose a severe threat to animal health.

CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)
The CDC was designated by the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) as the agency to implement the provisions of the Public Health Security Act of 2002.

  • The Act requires that all persons possessing biological agents or toxins deemed a threat to public health must register these agents with the CDC.
  • The CDC and DHHS (Department of Health and Human Services) created a list of the agents and toxins that pose a severe threat to the public.
  • The CDC is also involved in epidemiological investigations of outbreaks and research efforts to discover and produce vaccines and treatments against food terrorism agents.

FDA (Food and Drug Administration)
The FDA is in charge of Title III of the Public Health Security and Bioterrorism Preparedness Act of 2002: Protecting the safety and security of the food and drug supply. Under Title III:

  • All food facilities must register with the FDA.
  • The FDA is required to maintain records on the sources and recipients of foods.
  • The FDA must be notified of all shipments of foods being imported into the U.S. (type of food, country of origin, etc.).
  • The FDA is permitted to detain any food thought to cause harm to humans or animals without court hearings or a specified time frame.

EPA (Environmental Protection Agency)
The EPA is in charge of pesticide security. The EPA has issued the following regulatory initiatives:

  • Ensuring proper security at pesticide manufacturing and storage facilities
  • Ensuring proper security of pesticide application equipment
  • Designing facilities and equipment to minimize risk

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