Sen. Collins Urges President to Coordinate Federal Agroterrorism Preparedness and Response Efforts

WASHINGTON, D.C.-Senate Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Susan Collins (R-ME) today urged President Bush to coordinate the efforts of dozens of federal agencies and offices that share responsibility for preventing or responding to an agroterrorist attack, and to establish new policy on critical infrastructure protection to include agriculture and food sectors.

The letter to President Bush builds upon a hearing Senator Collins’ Committee held last week on agroterrorism-the first hearing devoted to this issue since 1999. During the hearing, agroterrorism experts and government officials stressed that even the threat of attack could jeopardize consumer confidence, disrupt commodity markets, and wreak economic havoc.

“While the federal government is making progress in its efforts to protect America’s vast food and agriculture industries from terrorist attack, I am concerned about the lack of coordination and the absence of a single preparedness and response plan,” Senator Collins wrote.

A terrorist attack on America’s food and agriculture industries would cause enormous damage-the industry contributes $1.24 trillion to the U.S. economy each year and accounts for one in eight American jobs. Agriculture is the nation’s largest employment sector. Furthermore, agricultural exports exceed $50 billion a year, representing the largest positive contributor to the U.S. trade balance. It is also a sprawling industry that encompasses a half-billion acres of croplands, thousands of feedlots, countless processing plants, warehouses, research facilities, and factories for ingredients, ready-to-eat foods and packaging, and a distribution network that brings food from around the nation and around the world into neighborhood markets and restaurants via virtually every mode of transportation.

In her letter, Senator Collins pointed out that “some of these vulnerabilities appear to be a result of an outdated Presidential Decision Directive on critical infrastructure protection. In May 1998, former President Clinton issued President Decision Directive 63, which designated nine physical and cyber-based systems essential to the minimum operations of the economy and government that are deemed vulnerable to a terrorist attack. Unfortunately, this Directive failed to include the agriculture and the food sectors. It needs to be updated.

“I commend you for your efforts to recognize that the agriculture and food sectors are vital to our economy and must be protected. By including agriculture and the food supply in your National Strategy for the Physical Protection of Critical Infrastructure and Key Assets, you have provided a strong foundation to address the gaps in the Clinton Administration’s policy on critical infrastructure protection. With more than 30 agencies possibly involved in a response to an agroterrorist attack, we must have a clear plan to prepare for and respond to an attack.

“Consistent with this National Strategy, I respectfully urge you, through a directive or similar means, to establish new policy on critical infrastructure protection. As part of this effort, I hope you will define the roles and responsibilities of federal agencies, establish an effective means of interagency coordination, facilitate coordination with the private sector, and include important agricultural and food preparation and distribution assets among the critical infrastructure that requires heightened protection,” Senator Collins concluded.