Food Terrorism

December 4, 2001

December 4, 2001

Yes, we have the terrorists on the defensive. The Taliban surrounded.

Anthrax on the decline. But how safe are we?

Out here, the Congress -- and across the country private companies and private institutions -- are looking for ways to improve security. On the food front, we are vulnerable. I don't even like to talk about it for fear of giving some nutcase an idea.

I think the biggest risk is to the ag economy -- even more so than to individuals. Let's look at Britain. The recent foot and mouth disease outbreak cost more than 13 billion dollars in lost animal income and exports. Foot and mouth disease does not pose a health threat to people but it can be disastrous to an industry. Another example that poses no human health threat is Avian influenza. When I was Secretary ofAgriculture, I ordered the destruction of millions of chickens in Pennsylvania to stamp out that disease. The industry cost was estimated at half a billion dollars.

I might add that the introduction of mad cow disease is not out ofthe question. Japan never had mad cow and now they have two cases of it. Beef consumption has collapsed in Japan. A little appreciated fact is that mad cow really isn't that great a risk to humans. About 100 people have died in the whole world. We kill 40,000 per year in automobile accidents. Yet who's afraid to drive?

I do have confidence in our agricultural inspectors. They have always done a good job of protecting us. Even better now with 40% more inspectors. We need to be vigilant on our farms. Ready to report any suspicious diseases. We've beefed up security at our food processing plants but no security system is perfect

Look at the bright side. There are a lot of ways to raise sensational havoc with our economy and our people. We live with risk every day, every minute. We have experienced horrendous attacks at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. And still we stand tall and confident. We are up to the challenge.