The Sept. 11, 2001, tragedies have left an indelible scar on America. It's still difficult to fully comprehend that thousands of innocent people can wake up one morning, leave for work and not return home because of a premeditated act of hatred perpetrated by an unseen enemy. As terrible as the events of that day were, they have left most Americans worried of other potential episodes of terrorism.

As part of the effort to prevent future attacks on our homeland, Americans must assess the threat of terrorism against every sector of society.

Production agriculture is only now beginning to understand the possibility of such threats. There's a significant lack of awareness and concern at the producer level of the philosophies and mechanics of agroterrorism.

Intentionally introducing a foreign animal or plant disease into the U.S. would not be terribly difficult, according to most agronomic and veterinary terrorism experts. Generally, such acts of agroterrorism are regarded as more benign and less offensive than if humans were the direct targets of an assault.

Biological weapons are attractive because they don't necessarily need to be “weaponized” and generally pose little risk of harm to the terrorists. If the medium is a non-zoonotic organism, perpetrators needn't worry about becoming their own victim.

Contributing to the vulnerability of U.S. agriculture are the trends of intensive production methods, vertical integration of food production, and an increasing industrial dependence on import and export markets.

Agricultural terrorism is not about killing animals or destroying crops, it's about crippling an economy. Unlike most weapons directed toward killing people, some diseases of livestock and crops are relatively easy to produce and stockpile. In fact, fewer controls exist for monitoring the possession of microorganisms that infect only plants or livestock than those that can harm or kill humans.

Specific agroterror attack strategies range from simply making false statements to incite fear, to performing acts designed to destroy property, crops, animals or people. In bioterrorism, threats can be as effective as actually doing something. Both can cause consumers to lose confidence in the safety of the food supply.

Domestic threats

While foreign-based terrorism garners most of the public attention, there are homegrown elements within the U.S. opposed to the use and development of our natural resources.

Opposition to “factory farming,” the development and use of genetically modified organisms, and large-scale “imprisonment and exploitation” of animals is escalating. From the perspective of environmentalism and animal rights, Marxists and other social radicals have been extremely reactionary in combating industrialized agriculture, liberalized international trade and meat consumption.

Law enforcement officials warn foreign terrorists may seek collaboration with these radical, domestic elements. It's critical to note that extremist and criminal organizations opposed to the industrialization of U.S. agriculture are increasingly seeking to ally with the “grass roots” agricultural community.

Potential targets of both foreign and domestic agroterrorism include primary and secondary producers, processors, and warehousing and distribution systems. Potential targets also include agricultural research programs supported by multi-national corporations held in contempt by anti-industrial groups that believe scientific advances in agro-sciences are creating a perversion of the natural order.

Whether an act of terrorism is probable against agriculture is an issue for anti-terrorism specialists and law-enforcement agencies. But, awareness is the first step toward preparedness in keeping U.S. agriculture from becoming a victim. We must all assess our roles in keeping this industry from being a target in a larger effort to bring America to its knees.