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Could AgroDefense Harm Agriculture More Than BioTerrorism?

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.

5 comments to Could AgroDefense Harm Agriculture More Than BioTerrorism?

  • Ann Hays

    I think it’s great that funding was finally passed to continue moving forward with NBAF in Kansas. The process was not rushed. It went through a 3 year exhaustive study, and Manhattan was chosen on its merits. Plum Center is outdated. We need new research facilities to protect our nation’s food supply.

  • Why do we need these facilities, Ann, when there has never been a credible threat of agricultural terrorism against the United States?

    Why should this project receive funding before the two studies of security and risk are completed? If this other study you’re referring to was truly exhaustive, rather than explorative, why are the risk and security studies being funded at all?

    Why ought the NBAF be located in the middle of agricultural country, rather than in an isolated location, where a security breach of the sort that occurred in the UK could not endanger crops or livestock on the US mainland?

    Sorry to be repetitive from the article, but you’re not addressing these key issues.

  • Charla

    Typical politician … not a scientist but trying to spread fear about scientific research! Deadly human diseases have been *safely* studied for decades in our country, and that research seems to be appreciated and celebrated. Animal disease research should be no different. Our scientists know how to do this stuff!

    • Hold on, Charla – could you please answer the questions?

      You want to talk about spreading fear. Fine. How about spreading fear of agricultural terrorism when there is no evidence that any threat of agricultural terrorism exists?

      You want to talk science, let’s talk facts. The fact is that the scientists in the UK let foot and mouth disease escape into the surrounding countryside. The fact is that the anthrax used in the attacks of 2001 came from American research sources, not from foreign terrorists.

  • Tom

    Your NBAF won’t protect anyone from the goddamn on-going drought, flooding rains at the wrong time, chaotic weather that makes spring too wet to plant and then too hot to grow crops in, diseases resulting from mold, blight and other natural consequences of CLIMATE CHANGE that NO ONE IS DOING ANYTHING ABOUT.

    The biggest threats to our fragile agriculture and food production capabilities are from ignorant, greedy, uncaring corporate (factory) farms (that actually spawn diseases), poor food handling procedures (that contribute sickness in the form of bad meat, mercury laced fish, and tainted vegetables EVERY YEAR anymore), and climate change which isn’t going away, can’t be stopped, and isn’t even a concern of our politicians (apparently).

    This bullshit agro-terrorism boondoggle is a waste of money and the entirely wrong approach to “protect our nation’s food supply.”

    It’s some senator’s pet project to keep him in office by creating some jobs back home. The resources would be much better utilized tackling the real problems mentioned above rather than MAKING SHIT UP for political gain.

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