Most folks don’t remember. It happened 33 years ago.
The memory of it has faded to the back recesses of the brain for the majority of Americans… though not for the hundreds sickened or hospitalized by the nation’s first bioterrorist attack.
It happened in the rural town of The Dalles, Oregon. In an attempt to rig an election by ensuring certain voters didn’t make it to the polls, leaders of an oddball cult contaminated the salad bars at 10 restaurants with salmonella.
It was simple… devious… and effective.
It took a full year for investigators to figure out what happened. Meanwhile, the bad guys were free to continue their underground attacks. If they’d wanted to, they could have spread the pain they created in their laboratory across the nation.
That’s what has us worried.
And, apparently, it’s what has the folks in D.C. worried these days.
It didn’t get much attention. We wouldn’t have found it if we hadn’t known where to look. But in late May, both houses of Congress quietly passed a hefty new law. It finally allows the government to prepare for a deadly attack on our food supply.
“An attack on our nation’s food supply would cause irreparable damage ,” said Kansas Sen. and Chairman of the Committee on Agriculture Pat Roberts. “As the backbone of the U.S. economy, the spread of any deadly pathogen among our livestock and plant population would be devastating.”
But these new initiatives from Congress – as usual – are a long time coming.
Ever since a U.S. SEAL team uncovered a list of pathogens and plans to produce bioweapons in an enemy cave in Afghanistan in 2002, the FBI has warned Congress and our homeland defense officials to prepare for trouble.
It was clear from what our troops found that the terrorists wanted to do grave harm to our food supply. Our men uncovered evidence of six pathogens that target humans, six that go after livestock and poultry, 10 that would destroy our food supply, and four that go directly after crops.
That’s big trouble.
Several expert reports published over the last few years show that an attack on our food system is a much larger threat than a nuclear attack. And yet the Commission on the Prevention of WMD Proliferation and Terrorism recently gave the U.S. a grade of “F” when it comes to bioterrorism readiness.
The government has failed.
Clearly the job of providing for our needs is on us.
But first we must understand the threat.
The FBI warns us that it’s not just bad guys in the Mideast we need to worry about. Yes, it admits, “transnational groups” are the biggest risk, but there are three others we should pay attention to.
First, perhaps the most alarming news, the FBI warns us about economic opportunists working to manipulate the markets in their favor.
The agency reminds folks that a simple outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease could send cattle prices soaring. An outbreak in 2001, for example, forced the wasteful slaughter of thousands of cattle in the U.K.
An avian flu epidemic would have an equivalent impact on the U.S.’s 234,000 poultry farms – each of them with the potential to be ground zero for an attack.
Second, the FBI points at domestic terrorists – saying there’s evidence of bad guys wanting to go after America’s food supply as a “blow against the federal government” or, as we’ve seen with other nut-job American-born terrorists, as a means of getting attention.
Finally, the intelligence agency says environmental activists like the Animal Liberation Front and the Earth Liberation Front would view an attack on the animal food industry as a major victory. These folks believe it’s immoral to use animals as food and would punish us all to get their view across.
In our eyes, and in the eyes of the law, these alternative groups are no different from the foreign terrorists who get so much attention on the nightly news.
Certainly, we must prepare for all threats the same way.
After all, it doesn’t matter how the food supply is attacked… how we overcome and survive is key.
PREPARING TO LIVE
As Congress finally opens its eyes to this major threat, the scary truth is that our nation is nowhere close to being prepared. If an attack happened today, many folks would be goners.
It would take days, weeks or even months to isolate the problem, notify the correct folks and ultimately protect American consumers.
In the meantime, our food supply would dry up… prices would soar… and families would go hungry. Just as nasty would be the horrific effect on our economy.
The scary facts above must serve as a wake-up call. They mean each of us must be prepared for a sustained disruption in our food chain.
If you don’t prepare… who will?
It has taken the government more than a decade just to start paying attention.
Its lack of action proves that we’re on our own.
We must always be prepared for trouble.
If not, hunger is going to hurt.