WASHINGTON, D.C.—Senate Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Susan Collins (R-ME) today praised the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) steps to encourage universities to tackle the challenges of agroterrorism. Senator Collins held a hearing on agroterrorism last month and urged President Bush to take steps to address agroterrorism in his policy on critical infrastructure protection.
“I’m pleased that DHS is taking proactive steps to protect America’s food and agriculture industries from agroterrorist attacks,” said Senator Collins, whose committee has jurisdiction over the Department of Homeland Security. “Even the threat of an agroterrorist attack could jeopardize consumer confidence, disrupt commodity markets, and wreak economic havoc. That’s why we must do all that we can to coordinate federal efforts and strengthen agriculture programs at our research institutions.”
According to testimony delivered at the Committee’s hearing on agroterrorism, the agricultural industry is particularly vulnerable to attack because there is a lack of farm- and food-related security and surveillance; the disease reporting system is inefficient and passive; and veterinarian training tends not to emphasize foreign animal diseases.
DHS announced today that it is accepting submissions from colleges and universities for proposals that will focus on research efforts to combat agroterrorism. The proposal submission is the first step in the review process for academic institutions wishing to be selected as a Homeland Security Center of Excellence. Following a review of the submissions by a team of experts and selected site visits, DHS will choose two centers. One center will focus on combating animal-related terrorism and the other will focus on post-harvest food security.
“Our agricultural and food sectors offer targets too numerous to count, and vulnerabilities that can be readily exploited with relative ease,” Senator Collins said. “We must make sure that federal agencies effectively coordinate their efforts to combat agroterrorism and that the federal government has a plan, because the impact of an ineffective federal response could be devastating.”
In November, Senator Collins sent a letter to President Bush urging him to coordinate the efforts of dozens of federal agencies that share responsibility for preventing or responding to an agroterrorist attack. In the event of a foot and mouth outbreak, for example, more than 30 agencies may be involved in the responding to the event.