Biodefense: U.S. vision of broader cooperation.

AuthorOstfield, Marc L.
PositionHomeland Security

Our food supply and distribution system is global in nature and poses a relatively soft target offering many points at which it could be deliberately contaminated. Fortunately, there are many steps nations can and have taken individually and collectively to harden these targets and better enhance national and international food defense.

But first some definitions. The term Food Defense encompasses the steps taken to minimize or mitigate the threat of deliberate contamination of the food supply, and includes identifying points of vulnerability and working to strengthen infrastructure, thereby, making the food supply a less attractive and, more importantly, less vulnerable target. Controls in support of Food Defense include physical security--monitoring the premises for suspicious activity, or locking chemical storage facilities; personnel security--screening employees, use of name badges; and operational security--monitoring production to prevent sabotage, use of tamper-evident packaging.

This is different from Food Safety, which focuses on setting standards for industry regarding the safety of food, good manufacturing practices, quality control of agricultural products, and promotion of trade in food products. Controls to enhance food safety can also be distinct from those involved in food defense and include: risk management strategies best practices in agriculture, manufacturing, hygiene and sanitation--as well as standard operating procedures (including HACCP or Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points) to prevent or reduce microbial or chemical or physical contamination.

Food Defense is also distinct from Food Security, even though, confusingly, the terms are often used interchangeably. Food Security is defined by the World Health Organization and others as "when all people at all times have access to sufficient, safe, nutritious food to maintain a healthy and active life."

The issue in Food Defense is that there is a genuine terrorist threat to the global food supply, both at the production and processing stages. Evidence suggests that terrorist groups have considered the food supply as a target, as a number of incidents in the last 20 years confirm.

A deliberate attack on food could and would be devastating, not just for health and safety, but in terms of social and economic impacts. The recent E. coli outbreaks from contaminated spinach, led to a national recall in the U.S.; 26 states were affected, 204 people were sickened, and 3 people died. And the impact of this incident was international in scope. Like the U.S., Canada ended up advising consumers not to eat U.S. spinach. By some estimates, this outbreak may cost up to $74 million. Even a rumor or hoax can have a significant impact, as we saw in 2001 when rumors surfaced about Foot and Mouth Disease in Kansas. That...

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