Safeguarding your business from the threat of agroterrorism

When people hear the word "terrorism," their first thought is 9/11. But terrorism can take other ominous forms. Agroterrorism the intentional destruction or contamination of our food, water supply or animal feed is a real threat for businesses involved in food production, storage or distribution.

Says Jim Monke, an analyst in agricultural policy of the American Federation of Scientists: "The potential of terrorist attacks against agricultural targets (agroterrorism) is increasingly recognized as a national security threat, especially after the events of September 11, 2001. In this context, agroterrorism is defined as the deliberate introduction of an animal or plant disease with the goal of generating fear, causing economic losses, and/or undermining stability."

But our focus should not be solely on foreign terror threats. The bigger concern in our area could be domestic terrorism. Surprisingly, this is not a new concept.

Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh and his followers contaminated salad bars and other "open to the public" foods with salmonella in an attempt to control local elections in Oregon in 1984. More than 750 people fell ill. Spinach and other leafy vegetables were perceived to be contaminated this spring. And remember the Tylenol tampering event in 1982.

These events scream at us from the headlines. But what about the lesser considered threat the disgruntled worker, the gambler that lost this month's rent or even the competitor that wants an edge over you?

It doesn't even take an actual event to impact your company. Just the threat of an event or a hoax can economically cripple your company, possibly to the point where it cannot recover. Think of the impact the anthrax hoaxes had on mail service and how everyone found "strange white powder" on just about everything, thus tying-up area responders and possibly keeping them from responding to real emergencies. The ripple-effect from these hoaxes can be just as devastating as the real McCoy.

Being prepared and taking precautions can go a long way in protecting your product, company and customers. You should take a long hard look at the security surrounding food and beverage products in your facilities. Areas to think about include:

* Do you immediately move received product inside or to a secured area, or is it open to the public?

* Is access restricted to those who have a need to be in that area or is it open to all?

* What is your procedure for checking date-codes, damaged containers or those that are not completely sealed?

* What access do other delivery companies have to your facility and do you know the delivery people?

* Are your food products received at the same location as other materials that could cause cross-contamination?

* Do you conduct activities in the immediate area that could possibly result in contamination from painting, maintenance or landscaping? What about your food storage areas, freezers, store rooms and prep kitchens?

By raising the bar concerning food security within your own facilities, you will lessen the likelihood of product contamination. One helpful system is CARVER+Shock developed by the Department of Homeland Security and the Western Institute for Food Safety and Security which was designed to help facilities determine how likely they are to experience an agroterrorism event. CARVER stands for: Criticality what is the public health or economic impact of the event; Accessibility to the target; Recuperability of the facility to recover; vulnerability to attack; Effect the amount of actual direct loss from the event; and Recognizing how easy it is to identify your facility as a target. Shock is the combined measure of the physical, health, psychological and economic impact of the event on the public health and to your company or facility.

In addition to evaluating your facilities and procedures, you should meet with the food suppliers in your chain to determine security at each phase of the continuum. How are their products handled and stored? What are their access issues? What quality-control methods are in place before it is shipped to your facility? Your facility could have Fort Knox security measures rendered meaningless if the facilities receiving the product prior to yours have lacking security and procedures. If foodstuffs that are received at "XYZ Resort Casino" are contaminated and people end up with food poisoning, will the media and the general public understand that it wasn't your fault?

So, by taking a dedicated approach to food safety within your facilities, adapting your procedures to provide for the security of food products, increasing vigilance in hiring practices and visiting your suppliers, your company can reduce the possibility of an agroterrorism event.

When taking the steps to make your facility and product safe from agroterrorism, there are resources for you to turn to. TMCC's Workforce Development and Continuing Education Division holds a course on agroterrorism, and Websites for the Department of Homeland Security at and the Western Institute for Food Safety and Security provide helpful information.

Scott Alquist is the manager of the TMCC Safety Center and is the program manager for safety, OSHA and regulatory compliance courses for TMCC Workforce Development and Continuing Education Division. Contact him at


Use the comment form below to begin a discussion about this content.

Sign in to comment