The United States has never suffered any terrorist attack against its agricultural production. There hasn’t ever even been a credible conspiracy that considered launching such an attack. In these days of ongoing Homeland Security, however, the lack of a threat is regarded as no excuse for the lack of defense. That’s why, as part of the Homeland Security appropriations bill that moved forward with a Senate vote yesterday, the federal government will be paying for the creation of a National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility (NBAF) in Kansas, in order to come up with ways to combat the threat of agricultural terrorism that appears not to exist.
Senator Jon Tester, Democrat from Montana, is concerned about the creation of the NBAF, and rose to the floor of the Senate yesterday to speak about his concerns. Among other things, Tester pointed out that the Homeland Security appropriations bill pays for two studies of the risks that could result from the creation the NBAF. Yet, the bill also pays for the construction of the NBAF. So, the NBAF construction would begin before the completion of security and risk mitigation studies to determine whether the NBAF is actually safe to construct in the first place.
What risk was Senator Tester talking about? How could a facility designed to make us more secure from terrorist attack put us at risk?
Tester explained, “This facility will house some of the most dangerous agricultural diseases around the world. We should not start doing this research on the U.S. mainland and in the middle of tornado alley without taking every possible precaution.” Foot and mouth disease, anthrax, and other diseases deadly to American livestock and crops would be cultured in the NBAF. If these diseases got loose from the NBAF, they could quickly spread across North America.
It’s happened before. Tester cited a case in the United Kingdom, in which a center studying foot and mouth disease released the pathogen that caused the disease, causing an agricultural crisis in which large numbers of animals had to be killed to prevent a nationwide disaster.
Tester suggested that some control might be created by constructing the NBAF on an offshore island. By placing the NBAF in Kansas instead, the Department of Homeland Security will be placing agricultural disease pathogens right next to the plants and animals they are adapted to infect.
The rush to create the NBAF is yet another example of the way that our nation’s panicky obsession with security actually leads us to become less secure.