Sociedad Bastiat

jueves, mayo 26, 2005

THREAT: ANIMAL AND AGRICULTURE BIOTERRORISM

THREAT: ANIMAL AND AGRICULTURE BIOTERRORISM

MANUEL CEREIJO




Anti-agricultural and animal biowarfare differ from the same activities directed
against humans. Also, attacks are substantially easier to do; the agents
aren’t necessarily hazardous to humans; delivery systems are readily available
and unsophisticated; maximum effect may only require a few cases; delivery from
outside the target country is possible; and an effective attack can be
constructed to appear natural.



Agriculture and animal husbandry is considered by many to be the perfect target
for bioterrorism. Why? The agriculture industry is unmatched in revenue and
scope. Food account for approximately 14 percent of the GDP and 25 million
Americans are employed in agriculture directly, that is 2 percent of the
population. In 2004, the agriculture industry generated over $3.2 trillion worth
of business, a large portion of which was derived from export markets. If any of
the many USA commodities were to be significantly impacted by bioterrorism the
results could be catastrophic.



A widespread-epidemic, or any outbreak that triggered the imposition or
relaxation of trade restrictions, could result in significant changes of supply
of the affected plant or animal materials on domestic and international markets.
In general, what goals might terrorists have in its readiness on this field?



· Attack the food supply of the United States

· Destabilize the US government by initiating food shortages or
unemployment

· Alter supply and demand patterns for a commodity



The impact of a devastating attack on our food supply would not be limited just
to the farmer. Businesses such as farm suppliers, transportation, grocery
stores, restaurants, equipment distributors, and in the end consumers, all pay
the price. Agricultural terrorism is not about killing animals, it is about
crippling our economy. Once released, an agro/animal terrorism event may go
unnoticed for days to weeks and by then it may be nearly impossible to determine
how the event occurred.



Countries might consider agricultural attack for military, political,
ideological, or economic reasons. Since there could be quite severe consequences
of being recognized as responsible for a biological attack, such efforts would
likely be covert. This would entail an effort to make the outbreak appear
natural (CANKER?); most probably a point-source outbreak, or multiple outbreaks
with an apparently natural common source. Intelligence sources suspect, for
example, that Cuba and other rogue nations have developed wheat cover smut as a
weapon.



Direct financial losses due to mortality or morbidity of domestic animals or
crop plants can very from insignificant to catastrophic .In many cases the
direct losses would be modest and would fall on a small number of farms. One of
the major determinants of the magnitude of the direct losses will be the
rapidity with which the disease is noticed and diagnosed.



Destruction of exposed hosts is often the only option when the agent is
bacterial or viral. With plants, thousands of acres of crop plants may have to
be destroyed to contain the outbreak. Thus, the losses attendant on outbreak
control can exceed, often by several orders of magnitude, the direct losses due
to the disease itself.



With the exception of a few agents of zoonotic disease, most of the diseases
that are likely to be considered for an attack on the agricultural sector are
completely harmless to humans. They are much less challenging to produce,
stockpile, and disseminate than lethal human pathogens. Cuba, for example, has
two main centers dedicated to this kind of research activities.



A military style attack by airplane on large acreage of crops would require crop
dusters and large stockpiles of agent. Less ambitious attacks would require much
less in the way of equipment or agent stockpiles. If the goal is to cause only a
few cases in order to disrupt society, then no special equipment and only a few
amount of agent are needed. And, as mentioned before, it is possible to
introduce biological agents without even entering the target country (West Nile
virus?).



If the goal is to disrupt the dynamics of the United States by introducing a
highly contagious disease into territory from which it is absent, then the
attack does not have to be constructed to cause a large number of cases-a
handful of cases may be sufficient.



Is Cuba a Threat On This Area?



The emerging sciences of genomics and proteomics, which Cuba has researched and
developed extensively, are already beginning to transform biology. Agriculture
has several properties that make it vulnerable to attack with genotype-specific
weapons.



This constellation of characteristics presented here makes biological attacks on
the agricultural and animal sectors of the United States a real threat, perhaps
more so than attack on the civilian population.



What types of agents might fulfill some of the bioweapons?



Foot and Mouth Disease, Mad Cow disease, Hog CholeraVelogenic Newcastle Disease,
African Swine Fever, Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza, and Rinderpest. For
plants the list of agents that might be used is nearly endless, although some,
such as Wheat Smut or Rice Blast, appear more harmful than others.



The route of introduction of these agents may vary, but aerosol, as mentioned
above seems to be one of the most effective means. As with crops, this could be
done in animals by crop dusters and hand spray pumps. Clever methods could
include the coating of turkey feathers with the agent, filling small bomblets
with the feathers, and then exploding them over the target where they drift on
the wind and contaminate a vast area.



Cuba has excelled in agricultural research and development since the early
1900s. The Cuban government has outstanding scientists and engineers, as well as
excellent Centers, that have the capacity to do the research and development of
potential bio-agro weapons.



GENERAL COMMENTS

Threat: Real or hoax?

Apart from their easy use, agricultural attacks are risk free. They do not
represent a direct threat to those carrying them out. In other words,
agricultural targets are soft targets or ones that maintain a low level of
security. Destroying a pig or a cattle population or a standing crop in some
state of US will also not attract as much criticism and media response as
killing a man or two in busy streets of Manhattan or Tokyo. Agricultural
terrorism also carries an advantage that it often gets too late before it is
realized.

The Real Motive

The most common motives behind these attacks can be:

Terror among rural population: It is well known that livestock and crops are the
only means of livelihood to the farmer. Any threat to any one of the above would
certainly create terror among the rural folks. It would disrupt the agrarian
structure of economy where it strikes and would certainly benefit the cause.
Direct Economic Loss: Direct economic loss from the containment of the disease
could run into billions of dollars. Any loss to the livestock of the nation
could seriously affect the industries associated with it and could result into
large-scale unemployment, a situation highly undesirable.
A loss in public faith: Any spread of disease could result into loss of public
faith and this would have a direct effect on "war against terror." This motive
could serve as a motivating factor behind this kind of warfare.
Counteraction

Agricultural terrorism is a multidimensional threat involving a wide range of
motives and perpetrators. Experts suggest that such a form of terrorism should
be countered at four levels namely:

National, through policies
Sector, through detection and response procedures
Farm: Facility management techniques
Organism: Animal or plant disease resistance
Any delay in response or negligence in tackling the threat can devastate the
economy of a nation to an unrecoverable extent. Recognizing the importance of
the "war against terror" it is equally important that nations concerned must
take adequate steps to protect their agriculture. This could involve a better
coordination among nations for a thorough inspection of all materials (including
biological and non-biological) so that the menace could be curbed at the point
of origin. There is also a need to educate our farmers so that they can detect
and warn the authorities about the disease in advance before it spreads to other
areas. In all the challenge is to anticipate the threat and counter it before it
occurs. With heightened efforts we can effectively protect agriculture one of
the economy's critical infrastructures.

CAPSULED GENERAL NOTES

What could such an attack cost?

The worst case scenario of feasible attacks is a widespread outbreak of foot and
mouth disease. The recent outbreak in the United Kingdom shows how severe such
an event can be. Nearly four million animals out of a population of 63 million
had to be destroyed at a cost of nearly six billion dollars. In the U.S. the
cost of an outbreak might reach $65 billion in one year. As a matter of
perspective, the 1989 savings and loan bailout has cost about $169 billion.
Still, those costs are substantial to an industry that provides 13 percent of
the nation's gross domestic product, earns cash receipts of more than $200
billion, provides $140 billion in exports, and allows Americans to spend only
about 12percent of their disposable income on food, unlike some areas of the
globe where that proportion is 50 percent to 60percent.

These economic benefits are due to the efficiency and high health and quality
standards that keep U.S. yields high and disease control costs low. U.S
livestock and crops have been effectively protected from foreign diseases, which
has increased productivity, and led to their high value in international
markets, increased exports and higher income. All of this good economic news is
dependent on freedom from disease. Animal or plant diseases, whether introduced
by terrorists or occurring naturally, could cause serious economic damage.

While the most likely agro-terrorist attacks are not likely to cause much human
suffering beyond economic damage and fear and intimidation, new infectious
diseases are appearing in animals worldwide, and some are proving dangerous to
people. Hundreds of people died in Malaysia in 1998 from the nipah virus that
emerged from swine, and over 400 people have died in the United States since
1999 from the West Nile virus that was transmitted from birds through
mosquitoes. These types of diseases are being closely watched by health agencies
world wide.



Is American Agriculture particularly vulnerable to a terrorist attack?

Unfortunately yes. Many of the factors that have created the economic benefits
of high efficiencies have also left American agriculture more vulnerable.

The economic drive toward lower cost per unit and larger farms has created large
volume and centralized monoculture, which presents risks for American
agriculture. Improved transportation has meant geographic concentration of
production in poultry, swine, cattle, corn, soybeans and wheat. Large
populations are at risk in small areas, for instance, the 78 percent of our beef
that passes through 2 percent of the nation's feedlots. Likewise, the near
monoculture in large-scale soybean and corn production in U.S. and its
concentration in the Midwest make it a more inviting target than if it were more
scattered across the country. High density identical crops increases risk: The
larger the available area, the more successful an infestation can be.
Concentration and monoculture are potential benefits to a terrorist who can
cause extensive damage from one act.

Percentage of total broiler production by farm size

In 1987, half of all broiler chickens came from large farms; ten years later
that percentage had risen to three quarters. Only 9 farms produce roughly 60
percent of the broilers. Intensive farming can be efficient in allowing farmers
to raise more animals with fewer resources and helps keep U.S. food prices low,
but at an increased risk of catastrophic disease and pest outbreaks.

Large farms: 300,000+ chickens

Medium farms: 100,000 - 299,999 chickens

Small farms: 1 - 99,999 chickens

The internationalization of trade means economic devastation can occur even if
no real widespread devastation exists. Products can be quarantined by
international agreements or need to be destroyed, with severe economic results.



The structure, size and integration of world agricultural markets promote rapid
spread. Significantly increased levels of travel, tourism and trade over the
past few years have all increased the risk of outbreaks.



Another element of increased risk is the government budget cutbacks over the
last decade that have decreased the number of plant pathologists and field
veterinarians, and led to cutbacks at agricultural colleges, extension services
and in applied research. Some experts have noted that the U.S. is vulnerable to
acts of bio-terrorism in part due to the declining number of plant pathologists
who can identify agents of plant disease, and the inadequate number of field
veterinarians, particularly those trained to recognize foreign diseases.

Finally, a major risk element is one of opportunity: agriculture offers "soft
targets" that have low security, and biological agents a terrorist might deploy
are small, cheap and almost impossible to detect. Agriculture thus offers the
opportunity of being a fairly easy and cheap way for a terrorist to cause
large-scale damage

The threat to agriculture and animal husbandry is real. We must become fully
aware and be on the alert. Cuba is a real threat in bioagricultural terrorism
due to its extensive research experience and large facilities on the
bioagricultural field.

Colaboración de Roberto Jiménez










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