American Awareness – Bioterrorism, is our food really safe?

By: Scott Hall
     The deadly E-coli outbreak in Germany related to vegetables being tainted, should serve as a reminder of how susceptible we the citizens of the world really can be when it comes to trusting what we eat.  Food safety is something many of us are concerned about especially when it comes to the foods we consume in our homes and abroad.  We have all probably seen and heard the stories of “oops I dropped a burger and still served it”, but what about “I fed a strain of some virus or bacteria to your food on purpose”.   Bioterrorism is a real threat to the citizens of the USA and to all nations, and may include the foods which we all consume.

    Agro terrorism, a category of bioterrorism, is where someone deliberately introduces a foreign and deadly substance into the food supply, with the intention of killing or injuring a mass of citizens.  In our farming industry, many things go right, especially when the farmer sees produce growing, and if the farm is large enough, workers tend to those crops, to insure they can use as much of the product as possible for maximum profit.  Farmers are held to certain agricultural guidelines in being inspected, however, most cannot afford to hire private security to monitor those areas of crop growth or livestock watching, and even if they could, how quickly can someone throw a water balloon into an open field of plants while driving down that road or drop a Kleenex loaded in bacteria into a feed trough, potentially contaminating the product and slipping away virtually unnoticed.  We must also trust the veterinarians or handlers not to inject foreign liquids into our growth hormone grown livestock. Since most pathogens (diseases) of livestock cannot be transferred to humans indirectly, this makes for a convenient angle for the terrorist to succeed at their goal by absolving them of the worry of handling the infection and delivery systems.   

     American citizens do have a line of defense in this possibility.  The Strategic Partnership Program Agro Terrorism Initiative or SPPA in short, is a joint combined effort of the Federal Bureau of Investigation( FBI), the Food and Drug Administration( FDA), the United States Department of Agriculture( USDA) and Department of Homeland Security (DHS).  Their strategic objective is to identify vulnerable areas, conduct inspections of producer plants, gather information on problems encountered, and includes a program to collaborate law enforcement agencies on information sharing.  Some of the criteria areas are corn, soybean, meats, milks, spices, and processed foods which includes verifying safe work areas, regular monitoring by the producer, health reports and a variety of other criteria based on what is being procured or produced. 

     Imports coming into the United States have changed in scope somewhat.  In inspections of the past, individual ingredients needed to be checked and then were sent off to processing centers to fulfill their culinary destiny.  In today’s society, due in part to cost effectiveness, most of those same foods come pre-processed and are subject to a different set of guidelines which is supposed to include country of origin markers or stamps, and an FDA approval.  Depending upon the source of the import, the FDA requires notice of the food coming in by as little as 2 hours, by land and as much as 8 hours if coming in by water.  Inspections from individual ports occur once the food product arrives.  Another potential flaw of food inspection is there may not be enough persons employed in those positions for inspections to be thorough or monitored properly.

     Along with washing our hands to prevent bacteria, we as citizens need to wash our veggies, properly prepare our meats and other susceptible foods.  Try to avoid cross contamination by not cooking our chicken with our sautéed onions and be diligent by monitoring when we can, where our food comes from and whether or not growth hormones, antibiotics or other influences have been introduced and in part, we must trust those whom pursue on a daily basis our freedoms of eating safely, which is so much more than a clean sneeze guard on a salad line, it is looking for that water balloon in the field.

References and informative readings: 

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