United States Increasing Food Security, Agriculture Chief Says

By Kathryn McConnell
Washington File Staff Writer

Washington - The United States is continuing to develop protections against threats to its agriculture sector, says Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns.

Speaking August 24 in Washington to a meeting of national and state government officials and business leaders - all interested in protecting critical U.S. infrastructure - Johanns said the United States "cannot afford to take our safety [or] the safety of our food for granted."

Johanns outlined systems for protecting the U.S. food supply that are being carried out in partnership with the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Health and Human Services, and with state, local and American Indian tribal governments.

The systems include assessing vulnerabilities in the U.S. food sector, raising public awareness of signs of a threat to the food supply, and early detection and containment of chemical, biological and physical food contamination.

Other measures include planning response and recovery, furthering the training of threat-response experts, and researching current threat possibilities, Johanns said.

U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) food safety personnel also are strengthening relationships with intelligence and law enforcement agencies throughout the United States to ensure we have "open channels for information sharing" about possible threats, Johanns aid.

As an example, Johanns described the Strategic Partnership Program for Agroterrorism, a joint effort involving USDA, the FBI, the Food and Drug Administration and Homeland Security.

"By bringing together government entities with the knowledge and the ability to protect our food and ag [agricultural] sector, along with the private sector, [and] state and local governments we are able to more clearly see a comprehensive picture of possible threats" and determine how to minimize the impact of any problems found to exist in the food sector, he said.


Working with Homeland Security, Agriculture is developing an automated detection system to screen agriculture imports. The system will include remote digital imaging to identify pests quickly and a nationwide database of "regulation violators," Johanns said.

The USDA also is helping farmers and veterinarians throughout the United States learn how to recognize "clinical signs of biosecurity threats and infectious diseases," he said.

Collaborating with state governments, USDA is planning how to dispose safely large volumes of food products if a contamination occurs, Johanns added.

In the area of research, USDA's Agricultural Research Service is working to develop animal vaccines and other "risk intervention strategies," he said.

The food protection strategy includes developing a sophisticated containment facility for animal disease at the main U.S. government center devoted to studying animal diseases, which is located in Iowa.

USDA also is evaluating vulnerabilities in the production, processing, packaging and transportation of food products and the effects of a disruption in the food supply on the nation's economy, Johann said.

These measures are all precautionary, Johanns said, adding that currently, there is no "specific threat" to the U.S. food sector.

The meeting was sponsored by the nonprofit group, InfraGuard.