Erroll Southers (Former Deputy Director of the California Department of Homeland Security) gives expert video advice on: What is agroterrorism?; How safe is the US food supply from agroterrorism?; What will the US government do in the event of an agroterrorist attack?
What is agroterrorism?
Malicious use of plant or animal pathogens to cause a devastating disease in the agricultural sector. For example, if we were able to infect milk somehow, or dairy cows, to the point that when milk finally got to the shelf and people start getting sick. And what's interesting about that kind of terrorism, from a terrorist perspective, it would take so long before we've connected the dots sometimes that their success would be that we dont connect the dots in the way of victims. Once we realize that we've got a pathogen, it's easy to track down, but if everybody doesn't get in the system with CDC and they don't connect the dots that what's happening in Los Angeles is also happening in San Francisco and Phoenix and Dallas and it's all because they all drank milk then it gets to leverage and becomes a force multiplier.
How safe is the US food supply from agroterrorism?
I think our food supply is safe from agroterroism. Agroterrorism is when you use plant or animal pathogens to infect the food supply. What's interesting is that the agricultural industry are so good at what they do that if we were to ever have an incident of agroterrorism, they can trace it back to the animal, the farm, the grocery store, with relative ease, and quite quickly as I understand it, which is what gives me a level of comfort of the food supply being protected. Can a lot of people get sick? Of course they can. Is it something that we would see utilized by the groups I described? Probably not, and here's my reasoning: it's long acting before people realize it's happened - it's not spectactular enough. It may be low yield in terms of utility. So if I'm a group that wants to make a statement, seeing people die over a period of time because I've infected the food source is probably not what I'm going to do.
What will the US government do in the event of an agroterrorist attack?
The most important thing would be to notify the public. To let them know that we think this is a source. We think that perhaps down to the city or state or country to pull it off the shelf. I mean, we've seen it with other things. We've seen it with toys. We've seen it with food in the past. It's really simple to do. The great thing about the media is that we can use them as a tool to inform the public that we've got this threat, we've got this issue, and here is what we need to do to respond to it.