Statement of Dr. Charles Lambert
Senate Committee on Governmental Affairs
"Agroterrorism: The Threat to America's Breadbasket"
November, 19 2003
Madam Chairwoman and Members of the Committee, thank you for this opportunity to speak with you on behalf of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) about agro-terrorism and our efforts to prevent and respond to a possible terrorist attack.
There are many agencies within the USDA that have been working to protect agriculture against terrorist attacks. Each one focuses their efforts on their area of expertise. Soon after September 11, Secretary Veneman asked Deputy Secretary James Moseley to head USDA's Homeland Security Council, organized around two primary goals: protection of the food supply and agricultural production, and protecting USDA facilities, infrastructure, and staff. Today, I will focus on the work of the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) and the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) that mans the front line of this defense.
APHIS' mission is to protect the health and value of American agriculture and natural resources. To accomplish this mission, APHIS has a safeguarding system in place to prevent introductions of foreign agricultural pests and diseases. Should there be an introduction, however, APHIS also has response mechanisms in place to contain and eradicate a pest or disease.
Since September 11, APHIS has heightened its already vigilant efforts to prevent foreign agricultural pests and diseases from entering the United States, either intentionally or unintentionally. APHIS has undertaken numerous short- and long-term measures to bolster its infrastructure. This has taken place through increased funding; closer coordination with industry, State, and other Federal organizations; improved research; enhanced surveillance; emergency preparedness; rapid response; program reviews; and enhanced security to ensure America's food supply is protected and remains prosperous. More than ever, APHIS is confident in its ability to detect and respond to the accidental or intentional introduction of animal or plant pest and diseases.
Events over the past 2 years have led APHIS to take steps to increase its network of partners and better share information with cooperators. In any emergency situation, the better prepared-with information and training-everyone is, the more effective the response will be. USDA knows that there can never be enough people involved in safeguarding activities. APHIS, for example, is proactively training and talking to stakeholder organizations like the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture, the United States Animal Health Association, university systems, and county extension agents about how to effectively safeguard the United States against the potential introduction of a foreign plant or animal pathogen.
To get the information out to those who will see the diseases first, APHIS, in 2001, held three two-week long Foreign Animal Disease Awareness Training Seminars for Federal-State veterinarians from all 50 States. These seminars help Federal and State animal health managers prepare for both accidental and intentional introductions of foreign animal diseases, improve communications, and strengthen cooperative partnerships. In addition, APHIS has been holding Emergency Preparedness Satellite Seminars yearly to share vital information with veterinary practitioners across the country on how to identify and respond to an animal health emergency. More than 1,700 Federal and State veterinary officials and emergency planners, military representatives, and veterinary college students and professors have participated in the satellite broadcasts.
APHIS has been working on the development of an educational module on livestock bio-security for producers and veterinarians. The module, called "Food Security: The Threat to American Livestock," will provide American agricultural first responders with a greater understanding of the asymmetric threats facing our Nation's food production system. The intent is to make available immediate access to resources and relevant information that will enable first responders to more efficiently identify, manage, and facilitate recovery from a foreign animal disease outbreak. The module offers comprehensive information on infectious disease threats, either accidentally or intentionally introduced, to livestock within the United States. We are planning to offer the module on password-protected CDs and a password protected website.
Working with our Federal counterparts is essential. In the event of an agro-terror attack on our homeland, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and APHIS will work as partners to safeguard America's food and agricultural resources. DHS will lead the team of first responders to contain and manage the threat while APHIS provides crucial scientific and diagnostic expertise. This expertise will be critical in managing a potential disease outbreak as well as assisting intelligence and first-responder agencies to find those responsible for the terrorist attack. In preparation, APHIS has established a liaison at DHS who is responsible for the inclusion of agro-terror response information into existing DHS first responder training, as well as beginning the development of specific agro-terrorism training for traditional first responders.
APHIS has also entered into interagency agreements with other government agencies such as the Defense Threat Reduction Agency and the U.S. Army Research, Development, and Engineering Command. These agreements are allowing APHIS to benefit from activities such as open source intelligence gathering on potential threats to U.S. agriculture and the evaluation of newly developed rapid diagnostic equipment.
Improving Detection and Surveillance
Pest and disease detection is a critical component of our safeguarding system. Of the 2002 Homeland Security supplemental funding, $20.6 million helped to establish national animal and plant diagnostic laboratory networks; $4.5 million was used to strengthen state-level surveillance for animal diseases and $4.3 million was used to assist states to improve their capability to detect plant pests and diseases. USDA's Cooperative State Research, Education and Extension Service distributed the money to geographically disperse State laboratories to fund facility and equipment upgrades.
On the animal side, 12 States received funding for improving facilities, equipment, reporting systems, and training. Five regional plant diagnostic centers have been established in California, Kansas, Michigan, New York, and Florida. The new laboratory networks will significantly enhance diagnostic capability in the United States and reduce the time needed to return test results during outbreak situations.
APHIS continues to improve its capabilities in the area of animal disease detection. For example, APHIS regularly holds foreign animal disease diagnostician training for Federal and State veterinary medical officers at the Plum Island Animal Disease Center in New York. More than 300 active State and Federal officials have received this training and are ready to respond to suspicious animal disease cases.
We know that smuggled agricultural products present a higher risk of introducing exotic pests and diseases into the United States than does international trade. With this in mind, APHIS created the Safeguarding, Interdiction, and Trade Compliance (SITC) team 3 years ago to address this risk to U.S. agriculture. The team is now working in partnership with the Department of Homeland Security and State and local law enforcement officials to mitigate the risk of smuggled commodities in shipments from foreign companies and passengers.
In addition, APHIS monitors pest and diseases overseas in order to determine the risk or possibility that the disease could impact U.S. agriculture. APHIS has implemented the Offshore Pest Information System, which will monitor and document changes in distribution and outbreak status of specific, designated high risk exotic plant pests and animal diseases, including pathways, in their countries of origin. APHIS currently has 64 Foreign Service Officials stationed in 27 countries on six continents; these officials are working closely with their foreign counterparts to collect this information and provide data to the Agency's headquarters. Based on this information, U.S. safeguarding efforts can be focused accordingly.
For example, soybean rust is a disease that could devastate the soybean growers within the United States, and APHIS remains very concerned about the likelihood and effect of an introduction into the United States. Because of this, APHIS is currently conducting a comprehensive pathway risk analysis for soybean rust. The program is collecting information from importers, exporters, the soybean industry, scientific experts, and foreign governments in order to better determine the potential pathways for the spread of soybean rust to the United States. Once this analysis is completed, it will be reviewed by APHIS to determine the appropriate next steps to take, including the possible development of new regulations. These efforts will help prepare for natural introductions of the disease as well.
Managing an Emergency
It is important that we remain prepared for the introduction of a foreign animal or plant disease, whether it be intentional or unintentional. In preparation, APHIS has evaluated its emergency response capabilities and has implemented new developments to hone its response capabilities. Of the 2002 Homeland Security supplemental funding, $14 million was used to strengthen state capabilities to respond to animal disease threats.
One of the most important developments in increasing the effectiveness of our emergency response is the implementation of the National Interagency Incident Management System, or NIIMS. The implementation of NIIMS is consistent with Presidential Homeland Security Directive - 5, which directs that the U.S. Government will have a single, comprehensive approach to incident management, including a National Incident Management System (NIMS). The NIMS, currently under development, will update and make applicable across all disciplines, the NIMS. By providing uniformity in organizational structure and terminology for emergency responders, NIIMS, and the forthcoming NIMS, will facilitate coordination among responders from different agencies and jurisdictions. This concept of emergency response coordination has been used widely in the emergency management community, including USDA's Forest Service in responding to fires.
NIIMS/NIMS provides tools that help leadership determine the seriousness of an incident by assessing the potential duration and geographic spread of the situation. It provides a classification system to guide the commitment of personnel and material resources. NIIMS/NIMS also allows leaders to adapt the scope of the response efforts to address incidents that grow in size and complexity.
APHIS has put the NIIMS model to use with great success in combating an outbreak of exotic Newcastle disease (END), a virulent and deadly disease of poultry, in the southwestern United States. The disease affected California, Arizona, Texas, and Nevada. During this outbreak, liaisons from the Forest Service worked with APHIS officials to use NIIMS in our response to the outbreak.
The use of NIIMS during the END response has enhanced our leadership effectiveness and our ability to work with partners. Our emergency response teams' organizational structure parallels that of other emergency responders at the Federal, State, and local levels. Our experience using the new system will also help us to make any necessary refinements to our response plans and organizational structure and continue improving our ability to respond to emergencies.
During the END response, we unveiled another enhancement to our emergency response capabilities that will further help us coordinate with our counterparts and stakeholders: the newly designed APHIS Emergency Operations Center. The Center is a state-of-the-art facility that features a variety of technologically advanced communications systems.
The advanced communications features included in the center significantly improve APHIS' ability to respond to animal and plant health emergencies. Communications capabilities include video teleconferencing, video projection to screens throughout the center, advanced computer interfaces, Geographical Information System (GIS) mapping, and a strong multimedia component. This technology has greatly enhanced the necessary communication between headquarters and regional response sites during the END response.
The Center is designed to serve as the national command and coordination center for APHIS emergency management programs. The Center gives an incident response coordinator direct access to incident sites, and the Center's advanced technology allows the Emergency Operations Center team members to communicate with field personnel and USDA leadership. The Center's design includes such security features as secure information storage, a generator for emergency power, and a telephone system independent of the building's system.
During an emergency, the Center can support 40 or more personnel and operate 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. When an emergency operation is not underway, the facility will be used to monitor and report on international and domestic surveillance for diseases of concern and to conduct advanced training.
APHIS is also responsible for the implementation of the Agricultural Bio-terrorism Protection Act of 2002, a subpart of the Public Health Security and Bio-terrorism Preparedness Response Act of 2002. Under the Agricultural Bio-terrorism Protection Act, entities that possess, use, or transfer agents or toxins deemed a severe threat to animal or plant health or products must notify and register with the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). Under the Public Health Security and Bio-terrorism Preparedness Response Act, entities that possess, use, or transfer toxins or agents deemed a severe threat to public health must register with the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).
Agents and toxins that appear on both the HHS and USDA's lists of agents and toxins have been designated "overlap agents" since both USDA and HHS have regulatory authority over them. An entity/facility that needs to register in order to possess, use, or transfer an overlap agent must submit its registration information to either APHIS or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), but is not required to submit the application to both APHIS and CDC.
In December 2002, USDA and HHS simultaneously published interim rules to regulate the possession, use, and transfer of select biological agents and toxins in the Federal Register. Under these rules, all entities that possess, use, and transfer select biological agents and toxins must be fully registered by November 12, 2003, or become subject to civil and criminal penalties.
In November of this year, USDA and HHS issued an amendment to the rule that allowed for the issuance of provisional registration certificates and grants of access to select agents and toxins. This amendment allows for the issuance of provisional registration certificates, pending completion of security risk assessments conducted by the U.S. Attorney General, for individuals and entities that possess these agents or toxins and that have submitted all required information by November 12, 2003. The provisional measures will provide additional time for the U.S. Attorney General to complete security risk assessments. On November 12, APHIS issued 75 provisional registration certificates. Three entities did not receive certificates.
USDA is dedicated to the implementation of these regulations. We have approximately 25 staff members working on the select agent program and APHIS spent approximately $1 million on select agents in fiscal year 2003. The budget request for Fiscal Year (FY) 2004 is $3.8 million.
Food Safety and Inspection Service
Events surrounding September 11, 2001 have heightened not only the already vigilant efforts of APHIS, but also those of the USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS). FSIS is responsible for ensuring that the nation's meat, poultry, and egg products are safe, secure, wholesome, and accurately labeled. FSIS has made great strides by introducing science-based policies designed to reduce the risks of food-borne illnesses. Food security is vital to our nation's homeland security and FSIS has assessed its emergency preparedness and response capabilities in light of this reality.
Each day, FSIS has more than 7,600 inspectors and veterinarians in more than 6,000 Federal meat, poultry, and egg product plants, and at ports-of-entry, to prevent, detect, and respond to food-related emergencies. With a strong food safety infrastructure already in place, FSIS has been focusing on fortifying existing programs and improving internal and external lines of communication. FSIS has an extensive system in place to properly respond to a food emergency resulting from terrorism and as part of the Homeland Security supplement the Agency used $1.5 million to hire an additional 20 inspectors for imported meant and poultry.
FSIS Office of Food Security and Emergency Preparedness
To date, FSIS has undertaken a number of initiatives to protect meat, poultry, and egg products from the potential of a terrorist attack. Immediately following September 11, 2001, FSIS established the Food Bio-security Action Team (F-BAT). The charge of F-BAT was to coordinate all activities related to bio-security, counter-terrorism, and emergency preparedness within FSIS. These activities are coordinated with USDA's Homeland Security Council, other government agencies, and industry. Currently, FSIS' newly created Office of Food Security and Emergency Preparedness (OFSEP) has assumed the responsibilities of F-BAT and serves as the centralized office within FSIS for food security issues.
OFSEP interacts closely with USDA's Homeland Security Council and represents the agency on all food security matters throughout the Federal government, as well as in State and local activities. The Office's mission is to lead in the development of the agency's infrastructure and to prepare for, prevent, and respond to, deliberate attacks or other threats to the U.S. food supply.
As the lead coordinator and primary point of contact on all food security and emergency preparedness activities within FSIS, OFSEP focuses primarily on:
- Emergency preparedness and response;
- Federal/State/Industry Relations;
- Continuity of operations (COOP);
- Scientific expertise in chemical, biological, and radiological terrorism; and,
- Security clearance and safeguarding classified information.
To ensure coordination of these activities involves all program areas of the agency, OFSEP established a new standing advisory group, the Food Security Advisory Team (FSAT), comprised of representatives of the major program areas within FSIS, to provide program-specific technical support.
Expanding Coordination with Federal, State, and Local Agencies
FSIS collaborates and coordinates closely with its State partners to ensure an effective prevention and response program. Some of the many State organizations FSIS works with include the Association of Food and Drug Officials (AFDO); the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials (ASTHO); and the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture (NASDA). Most recently, FSIS teamed with FDA in cosponsoring a joint meeting between ASTHO and NASDA, entitled "Homeland Security: Protecting Agriculture, the Food Supply, and Public Health - The Role of the States." The purpose of this meeting was to enhance collaboration between State public health and agriculture agencies and the Federal government. Both the Secretary of Agriculture and the Secretary of Health and Human Services were on hand for this joint meeting. APHIS and FSIS receive threat information and written reports from the intelligence community to update the Department on terrorist threat reporting relative to food and agriculture. This intelligence allows APHIS and FSIS to prioritize their response based upon both perceived vulnerability and what is known of the terrorist threat.
FSIS also works closely with the White House Homeland Security Council, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and the USDA Homeland Security Staff to coordinate strategies to protect the food supply from an intentional attack. For example, FSIS, FDA and DHS are working with industry partners to encourage the establishment of a new food information sharing and analysis organization for the food sector. This public/private partnership will aid in the protection of the critical food infrastructure by increasing information sharing about threats, incidents, and vulnerabilities related to food.
By partnering with other agencies, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), FDA, the USDA's Agricultural Research Service (ARS), DHS, APHIS, EPA, as well as international partners such as the Canadian and Mexican governments' food inspection agencies, and State and local health agencies, FSIS is in a pivotal position to share information and to strengthen critical infrastructure protection activities concerning food from farm to table.
The White House Homeland Security Council has recognized the need for a coordinated approach to food security matters and has assembled an Interagency Food Working Group (IFWG) to consider policy issues related to protecting the food supply and minimizing it as a target for terrorist activity. The IFWG has representatives from twelve Federal agencies, including FSIS. In addition, FSIS co-chairs three subgroups of the IFWG, most notably the Vulnerability Assessment/Food Shields Subgroup, the Incident Command Subgroup, and the Laboratory Subgroup.
In addition to its partnerships with the White House and Federal agencies, FSIS has entered into a working relationship with the U.S. Public Health Service (PHS) and the Office of the Surgeon General. In April 2003, FSIS signed a Memorandum of Agreement with the Surgeon General and the PHS that allows expanded numbers of PHS Commissioned Corps Officers to be detailed to the agency. Not only will these officers help FSIS respond to food-borne disease outbreaks and assist in preventing food-borne illness, but they will assist in the agency's homeland security efforts as well. Since the Commissioned Corps Officers are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, this affords a greater flexibility to respond immediately during heightened security alerts or an actual threat to the food supply.
Enhanced Surveillance and Detection Activities
In fiscal year 2003, FSIS undertook many new initiatives, as well as strengthened its existing infrastructure, to enhance its ability to detect any potential intentional threat to the food supply.
FSIS has strengthened its controls to protect the public from the entry of contaminated product from abroad. FSIS continually assesses foreign country inspection systems to ensure that they maintain food safety standards and operations equivalent to the U.S. inspection system. To supplement the activities of its import inspectors, FSIS has added import surveillance liaison inspectors who are on duty at U.S. ports-of-entry. As of March 2003, 20 of these inspectors have been conducting a broader range of surveillance activities than traditional import inspectors. They also work to improve coordination with other agencies that are tasked with ensuring the safety of imported food products.
Also in 2003, FSIS made significant enhancements to its national surveillance system for monitoring and tracking food-related consumer complaints. The Consumer Complaint Monitoring System (CCMS) serves as a real-time early warning system for potential terrorist attacks on the food supply. CCMS uses an electronic database to record, triage, and track food-related consumer complaints. The CCMS has been upgraded to provide 24/7 coverage and complaints can be entered at FSIS field offices and accessed at headquarters in order to provide a more real-time response.
As part of FSIS' initiative to better prepare its workforce to respond to a potential terrorist attack, employee Directives were issued in March to instruct in-plant and laboratory personnel on how to respond when the DHS raises the Homeland Security Advisory System threat level to Orange or Red. The Directives include additional inspection tasks and laboratory testing requirements. They also encourage FSIS personnel to cooperate with establishments by alerting plant management to the threat level change and verifying that they are carrying out necessary food security procedures. FSIS is developing additional components to the Directive that will address computer security, import re-inspection, communication, and human health surveillance monitoring.
In March 2003, as Operation Iraqi Freedom began, the Federal government initiated Operation Liberty Shield to increase security and readiness in the United States. FSIS participated in this multi-department national team effort to increase protection for America's citizens and infrastructure while maintaining the free flow of goods and people across our borders. During this time, FSIS implemented two new Directives and other activities to focus its efforts at preventing food and agro-terrorism. For example, FSIS enhanced its inspection of meat, poultry, and egg products and FSIS import inspectors increased their security oversight at ports-of-entry. In addition, during this time random laboratory samples included an analysis for dangerous chemical, biological, and radiological threat agents that can be introduced into food.
FSIS, as well as FDA and APHIS, was selected to participate within the multi-department International Trade Data System (ITDS) in fiscal year 2004. This new initiative will establish a single, automated system for sharing data on inspection and certification of products entering the United States, and it will provide commercial enterprises with a single government source for interaction with the various agencies that regulate imports. In addition, this new system will eliminate duplication, increase security, and reduce costs to the government. The ITDS system will greatly enhance the already cooperative efforts of FSIS and its food safety partners, including the Department of Homeland Security.
Strengthening Laboratory Capabilities
In FY 2003, FSIS made important progress on the scientific front. FSIS laboratories expanded their capability to test for non-traditional microbial, chemical, and radiological threat agents and increased their surge capacity. In addition, construction is underway on a Bio-security Level-3 laboratory that will enable FSIS to conduct analyses on a larger range of potential bio-terrorism agents. Construction should be completed in December.
Additionally, FSIS is participating with HHS, EPA, the Department of Energy, and the States, to integrate the nation's laboratory infrastructure and surge capacity. Over 60 laboratories representing 27 States and five Federal agencies have agreed to participate in the Food Emergency Response Network, or FERN. FERN, which is coordinated by FSIS and FDA, focuses on method validation, research, training, proficiency programs, surveillance, response and surge capacity, and communication. By providing a greater capability to test for biological, chemical, and radiological agents in food, FERN will provide the nation with a strong scientific infrastructure to better protect the food supply.
FSIS also participates in the Electronic Laboratory Exchange Network, or eLEXNET. This internet-based system will be the mechanism by which the FERN laboratories report results from all bio-terrorism or chemical terrorism related analyses. FSIS also participates in the CDC Laboratory Response Network that provides training and microbiological methods to participants.
FSIS' Information Sharing and Outreach Activities
As I mentioned earlier, in an emergency situation, the better prepared we are, the more effective our response will be. In 2003, FSIS has continued to work with consumers and the food industry, to share information on the best ways to keep our food supply secure.
Just as all parts of the food supply chain work to ensure that meat, poultry, and egg products are safe and wholesome, each part of the food supply chain also plays a role in ensuring that products are secure from intentional contamination. FSIS has made a strong effort to reach out to industry to encourage food security programs. In May 2002, FSIS released voluntary security guidelines for food processors. The guidelines were designed to help plants identify ways to strengthen their security plans.
In August 2003, the Agency published guidelines for those that transport and distribute FSIS-regulated products. These voluntary guidelines are designed to help facilities and shippers that process or transport meat, poultry, and egg products strengthen their food safety and security plans. Using these guidelines, FSIS is currently working with food processing plants, transporters, and distributors to encourage reviews of their security procedures.
And just this week, FSIS released a new document entitled Food Safety and Food Security: What Consumers Need to Know. This publication offers comprehensive and practical information about safe food handling practices, food-borne illness, and ways to keep food safe during an emergency. It also includes information on how to report any suspected instances of food tampering.
All of these documents, plus further information on FSIS' efforts to protect the food supply from intentional contamination, are available to the public in several languages on the agency's Web site. FSIS also continues to reach out to consumers, industry, and the public through the use of the agency's food security exhibit at conventions, food security conferences, and USDA public meetings.
When information is shared between all stakeholders committed to providing safe meat, poultry, and egg products to consumers, everyone is better prepared to react when an emergency situation arises.
FSIS Preparedness Efforts
As FSIS works to provide food security information to external groups, the agency is also working to ensure that its own employees are well trained and prepared to handle crisis situations. When the agency's voluntary food security guidelines were released, employees were trained in the application of the guidelines. FSIS has also initiated a comprehensive two-year training and education effort for all agency employees. This food security awareness training focuses on preventing attacks on the food supply and emphasizes the importance of cooperation between Federal, State, and local governments, and the private sector. Because of this, representatives from other Federal agencies, State governments, and local responders have also attended this FSIS training.
FSIS is preparing educational materials for agency personnel to supplement the food security training. This booklet, which FSIS is working to distribute by the end of this year, will include information on the role of employees in protecting the food supply.
To test agency preparedness, FSIS has sponsored and participated in tabletop training exercises to familiarize staff and managers with their responsibilities in the event of an intentional attack on the food supply. In late 2002, USDA conducted "Crimson Sky," an exercise for Department and agency officials to become familiar with crisis operations. FSIS followed this exercise with 'Crimson Winter,' an agency sponsored simulation that involved the agency's food safety partners. Federal agencies, including APHIS, FDA, CDC, and DHS, participated, as did State and local agencies that would be involved in responding to an attack on the food supply. This exercise proved helpful by allowing the agency to recognize areas for improvement in its response plans, and to address those issues before a real crisis occurred.
Training, practice, and simulation exercises help to develop clear roles and responsibilities that allow for a more efficient and effective response when a true crisis emerges. To further develop protections for the food supply, FSIS has completed vulnerability assessments to determine the product commodities and processes that are vulnerable to attack, including potential threat agents that could be utilized for deliberate contamination of domestic and imported meat, poultry, and egg products. By assessing vulnerabilities, FSIS is able to use the information to develop strategies, policies, and countermeasures to reduce potential risks to the food supply.
FSIS continues to identify vulnerabilities in the food supply chain and dedicate resources to develop ways to minimize food security risks. These efforts will help to ensure the safety and security of the U.S. meat, poultry, and egg products.
The strong working relationships that we have with other Federal agencies, States, and industry are vital to our efforts to safeguard U.S. agriculture. Preserving traditional relationships and building new ones, such as with DHS, will strengthen our efforts. Likewise, I assure you that USDA remains committed--through our bio-security and emergency preparedness activities--to ensuring the continued good health and value of U.S. agriculture.
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