The Senate passed a House bill aimed at preparing the government to deal with terrorist attacks on the nation’s food supply Thursday.
“An attack on our nation’s food supply would cause irreparable damage,” Kansas Sen. Pat Roberts, Chairman of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, said Thursday in a statement.
The Securing our Agriculture and Food Act, which now heads back the House for small changes to be approved, then goes to President Trump for his signature. The bill would authorize the role of the Department of Homeland Security to coordinate programs for securing and responding attacks on the food system.
The goal is to prepare responses to potential “agroterrorism” attacks on agriculture crops, farm animals or food supply chains.
“As the backbone of the U.S. economy, the spread of any deadly pathogen among our livestock and plant population would be devastating,” Roberts said.
Terrorist attacks on the agriculture system are mainly theoretical, but experts have been warning about the weakness in the food system for years. A 2012 paper from the FBI warned about what could happen if a terrorist organization introduced foot and mouth disease into animal feed or herds.
Foot and mouth disease is not particularly harmful to humans, but can be deadly to animals. An outbreak in the U.K. in 2002 forced farmers to slaughter thousands of cattle, and an outbreak in America could cost taxpayers $60 billion, according to the FBI.
Iowa Republican Rep. David Young introduced the bill in the House following a 2015 avian flu outbreak that wiped out millions of chickens and turkeys. The response to that outbreak “revealed problematic breaks in the federal government’s ability to communicate with the people and react quickly to large-scale animal disease outbreaks,” Young said. “This disaster also raised concerns among farmers and producers about whether our nation would be able to quickly and effectively share information and respond to agro-terrorism threats and bio-attacks, ultimately an attack against the safety and reliability of food supplies consumers rely on.”
“Our nation’s enemies are intent on attacking us by exploiting our resources and vulnerabilities, including our food supply,” New York Republican Rep. Dan Donovan said. “Threats to U.S food, agriculture, and livestock industries could devastate our food system, impacting millions of Americans, as well as our economy.”
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