Wednesday, November 15, 2006 - 10:20 AM

The Challenges of Agrosecurity.

Tesema Chekol, Donald B. McGonigle, and Victoria, M. Laing. Battelle Memorial Institute, 1204 Technology Drive, Aberdeen, MD 21001

Agriculture and food account for more than 12 percent of the US gross domestic product (GDP) or $1.5 trillion of the U.S. GDP of $12.7 trillion in 2005. More than 16 percent of U.S. employment in 2004 was in the food and agricultural sectors. As a result, agriculture is one of the critical infrastructures of the nation and Homeland Security Presidential Directive (HSPD-9) requires protection of this sector.  Historically, biological weapons are thought of as agents for causing human death and illness. However, with the economic impacts experienced by the United States, following 9/11, and by Great Britain, following the Foot and Mouth Disease outbreak, the power of biological pathogens as economic weapons has been made more evident, thus increasing the likelihood of their use.  These pathogens are particularly appealing since many are not overlap agents and do not affect humans, making the handling of such agents safer.  In addition, many of the pathogens are not present in the United States, but are endemic in developing countries. The United States agriculture is particularly susceptible to exposure to such pathogens as it is often highly concentrated, accessible, and of limited genetic diversity.  Should a successful attack take place, it is likely that financial losses will be very large, and it is possible that very severe, long lasting losses will be experienced, especially if disease transmission to humans occurs. Therefore, protecting our agricultural resources from terrorist attacks is everybody’s duty and the first critical step in dealing with the challenges of agrosecurity is creating awareness at all levels.