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Homeland Security



Statement of Susan M. Collins

Senate Committee on Governmental Affairs

"Agroterrorism: The Threat to America's Breadbasket"

November, 19 2003

Today, the Governmental Affairs Committee will examine the vulnerability of America's agriculture and food industry to terrorist attacks, what our nation must do to defend against "agroterrorism," and how prepared we are to respond to such an attack.


In the War on Terrorism, the fields and pastures of America's farmland might seem at first to have nothing in common with the towers of the World Trade Center or our busy seaports.  In fact, however, they are merely different manifestations of the same high-priority target - the American economy.  Even as he celebrated the toppling of the "pillars" of our economic power in the videotape released shortly after Sept. 11, 2001, Osama bin Laden urged his followers to "hit hard the American economy at its heart and core."


Nothing is more at the heart and core of our economy than our agriculture and food industry.  It is a $1-trillion economic sector that creates one-sixth of our gross national product. One in eight Americans works in this sector.  It is 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.


Hundreds of pages of U.S. agricultural documents recovered from al Qaeda caves in Afghanistan early last year are a strong indication that terrorists recognize that our agriculture and food industry provides tempting targets. According to a new RAND Corporation report, which will be released at today's hearing, the industry's size, scope, and productivity - combined with our lack of preparedness - offer a great many points of attack.  Among our witnesses today will be the report's author, Dr. Peter Chalk, a noted expert in biowarfare.
 
Al Qaeda's interest in agriculture is not limited to studying documents - these killers have practical, hands-on knowledge. A CIA report released in May confirmed that the September 11th hijackers expressed interest in crop-dusting aircraft, an effective and remarkably simple way to spread biological agents, including plant and animal diseases, over large areas. We also have learned from the CIA that Osama bin Laden himself has considerable knowledge of agriculture - he controlled sunflower and corn markets in Sudan in the mid-90s and may have used his farms to train terrorist operatives. 


This horrific page is from The Poisoners' Handbook, an underground pamphlet published here in the United States that provides detailed instructions on how to make powerful plant, animal and human poisons from easily obtained ingredients and how to disseminate them. It was found in Afghanistan, in the hands of a group known to support al Qaeda. Last spring, a Saudi cleric who supports al Qaeda and has since been arrested, issued a fatwa, a religious ruling, that justified the use of chemical and biological weapons, including weapons that destroy tillage and stock.


To appreciate the potential impact of agroterrorism, consider the economic and social impact of naturally occurring events of agricultural disease outbreaks.  Here are three examples:


-- The 1997 outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease in Taiwan had an immediate cost to farmers of $4 billion. The estimated cost to date of trade embargoes is $15 billion.


-- The 2001 outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease in Great Britain cost $1.6 billion in compensation to farmers. The lost revenue to tourism, a manifestation of the psychological impact, is estimated at $4 billion.


-- The 2002 outbreak of exotic Newcastle disease in California led to huge economic losses for poultry farmers and the quarantine of 46,000 square miles. Included in this area was the U.S. Army National Training Center at Ft. Erwin.
 
But to call these three cases "naturally occurring" ignores an important point: each was caused by human error, by carelessness, by a lapse in security.  In Taiwan, it was one infected pig imported from Hong Kong.  In Britain, it was one batch of infected feed at one farm. In California, it was one infected rooster smuggled across the border from Mexico. The ease with which terrorists could replicate these events is alarming.


Since September 11, 2001, we have done much to make our nation more secure.  Nevertheless, much of America remains unprotected; a vital sector remains largely unguarded, and an attack could be devastating.  As we will hear today, an attack upon just one segment of our food supply could cripple our economy, require geographic quarantines, cause massive social upheaval, and, of course, produce illness and death. 
 
  
To prevent a future attack, we must first understand the danger.  The RAND Corporation report describes the threats and vulnerabilities of agroterrorism and explores the likely outcomes of a possible attack. It is a call to action.
  
Understanding current federal efforts to prevent and respond to a terrorist attack will help us understand what we need to do to better address our vulnerabilities.  Therefore, we will also hear testimony from representatives of the Department of Agriculture, the Food and Drug Administration, and the Department of Homeland Security who will outline existing efforts and capabilities, and what we must do to deter, detect, and respond effectively to an attack.  
 
As this chart shows, more than 30 agencies may be involved in the event of an outbreak of foot and mouth disease.  We must make sure that their efforts are effectively coordinated and that the federal government has a plan.  After all, the impact of an ineffective federal response could be devastating.  According to the National Defense University, which has conducted agroterrorism simulations, even a limited outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease on just 10 farms could have a $2 billion financial impact and wide-ranging effects on society, including the impairment of military deployment. Those simulations are based upon the research of Dr. Thomas McGinn, one of our witnesses today.
 
Congress has not held a hearing devoted to agroterrorism since 1999, some two years before the September 11th attacks.   That is not to say no work has been done on the issue since that time.  Indeed, Senator Roberts, who held the 1999 hearing, worked with me to help write the food safety provisions included in the Bioterrorism Act.  My colleague Senator Durbin has also worked hard to raise awareness of our food safety vulnerabilities and in fact held a Governmental Affairs Subcommittee hearing on the issue in October of 2001.  And Senator Akaka, perhaps more than any other Senator, has worked toward legislative solutions to our nation's vulnerabilities to possible agroterrorist attacks.  Senator Talent, our first witness, has also been a leader in this effort.
 
I look forward to working with him and members of this Committee to make sure this aspect of homeland security receives the attention and the resources it deserves.   We must join together on a bipartisan basis to address this growing threat before it reaches our soil. 
 
I would like to welcome Senator Talent, who joins us to begin today's hearing.



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