Feb. 20, 2007 A sound and safe agricultural system is critical to national security, but are U.S. crops, a cornerstone of our nation's economy, vulnerable to attack?
The latest information on strategies currently in place and what is still needed to keep U.S. crops safe from terrorist attack was presented by Jacqueline Fletcher, Sarkeys Distinguished Professor of Plant Pathology at Oklahoma State University, during the 2007 American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Annual Meeting in San Francisco, CA.
Fletcher's presentation "Emerging and Threatening Plant Pathogens: Assuring Biopreparedness," took place during the Agricultural Biosecurity Toward a Secure Global Economy and Public Health symposium, held February 18.
Plant pathogens that are devastating to crops elsewhere, but are not yet present in the U.S., could be easily obtained by terrorists and used as weapons. "Because crops are grown with little surveillance over widespread areas, long lag times may occur between pathogen introduction and detection," Fletcher said. "If plant pathogens are used as weapons, we could see reductions in crop yield and quality, increases in production costs and food prices, lost markets and trade embargoes, financial instability of rural communities, and loss of public confidence in the food supply," she said.
Fletcher's presentation focused on the need for both prevention, including border inspections and crop surveillance, and preparedness, including tools for rapid recognition of an attack, precise pathogen identification, forensic investigation, and pathogen containment. "Recent enhancements at the national and local levels have improved our preparedness, but we still need to train first detectors, minimize response time, and establish standard reporting protocols," Fletcher said. "Better coordination of crop-related activities at the national level will strengthen our agricultural enterprise regardless of whether challenges to our crops arise naturally, accidentally, or intentionally," she said.
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