Tackling Agro-Terrorism

Concentrations of livestock could provide an opportunity for rapid distribution of pathogens. ( John Maday )

Editor’s Note: This is the third and final installment of a three-part series on agro-terrorism, featuring speakers from the 2018 U.S. Animal Health Association Meeting. Read Part 1 here and Part 2 here.

The goal of “traditional” bioterrorism is to attack human health by using human and zoonotic disease agents as bioweapons. This method is designed to cause high human casualty rates through illness, debilitation or death. But bioterrorism is no longer traditional.

In today’s world, key biological threats include:

  • Foreign animal diseases: High risk animal and/or zoonotic diseases and pests with severe economic and animal health consequences that are normally present in a country or have been previously eradicated
  • Exotic plant diseases and pests: High risk diseases, noxious weeds and pests of crops, grasslands, and forests with severe economic consequences
  • Zoonotic disease: Transmitted between animals and humans
  • Emerging disease: Newly identified disease resulting from the evolution or change of an existing pathogen, a known infection spreading to a new area or population, or previously unrecognized disease

Cody Bruce, deputy director and lead cyber-intelligence analyst, Kansas Intelligence Fusion Center (KFIC), and Marty Vanier, DVM, director of strategic partnership development, KSU National Agricultural Biosecurity Center (NBAF) Program Executive Office, gave eye-opening presentations at the 2018 U.S. Animal Health Association (USAHA) annual meeting. They emphasize the need for producers and veterinarians to be alert for potential agro-terrorism threats.

The mission of the KIFC is to generate intelligence analysis critical for homeland security policy and threat warning in Kansas and the Great Plains region. Fusion centers were created post-9/11 to create a state-level homeland security intelligence network.

“The Kansas Intelligence Fusion Center reflects our unique needs and abilities,” Bruce says. “They work on biological threats, counterterrorism and critical infrastructure and they have an animal background so they’re going to understand your needs.”

“It’s a coalition of the willing,” Vanier adds. “We all agree to abide by certain standards. We check our egos at the door, and we are all there in a spirit of collaboration — that’s why the fusion centers work.”!

National security at stake
Agricultural security is national security, Bruce says. In 2013, Ventria Bioscience employee Weiqiang Zhand collaborated with USDA rice researcher Wengui Yan to facilitate the theft of transgenic rice seeds by Chinese nationals of the Crops Research Institute in Tianjin, China. In early 2017, a Chinese national pled guilty to conspiracy to steal trade secrets. The loss to the company was $85 million in development costs and $1 billion in annual revenue. Both of these situations took place in Kansas, which illustrates the scope of the issue to a nation as large as the U.S.

Espionage can relate to employees who exploit their position, credentials, trust or employment to gain access to secure information, processes, equipment, materials, livestock, crops and restricted areas to carry out terrorist actions, Vanier says. (For more on how to protect your farm during the interview process, see part one).

“We’ve had to look at visitors with a hard eye – who’s coming and why do they want to come,” Vanier says. “The goal is to identify a ‘pattern’ of concerning behavior, not a one-time anomaly.”

Biosecurity more important than ever
While African Swine Fever (ASF) is the biggest biological threat right now, it’s certainly not the only one, Vanier explains. Foot and mouth disease, exotic ticks, rinderpest, Rift Valley fever, new world screwworm and other animal diseases also are of concern.

A virus like ASF would devastate the U.S. pork industry, so the National Pork Board, American Association of Swine Veterinarians, National Pork Producers Council, Swine Health Information Center, private veterinarians and farmers are taking extra precautions to keep the disease out of the U.S. In addition, disease outbreak control and response operations are gearing up to prevent diseases from spreading from infected premises. Laboratories, universities and other research facilities are working hard to prevent unauthorized access, security breaches, theft, loss, sabotage or release of biological agents.

The FBI offers joint training exercises, vulnerability self-assessment tools, threat-awareness briefings and informational brochures. Contact your FBI WMD coordinator to learn more. (Read more about what the FBI is doing to fight agro-terrorism in Part two).

If you suspect a biosecurity breach, or if you notice anything unusual with your animals, your first contact should be your herd veterinarian, says Barb Determan, a pork producer from Early, Iowa, and USAHA immediate past-president.

“Talk to your vet immediately,” she asserts. “Report any differences or changes you see in your herd right away.”

Editor’s Note: If you’re interested in important animal health updates as well as topics like this, attend the 2019 USAHA-AAVLD Annual Meeting, Oct. 24-30, at the Rhode Island Convention Center in Providence, RI. For more information, go to: http://www.usaha.org/2019-annual-meeting