Attacks on Food Supply Unlikely to Succeed. (Terrorism)

USA TODAY, April 2002 | Go to article overview

Attacks on Food Supply Unlikely to Succeed. (Terrorism)


Terrorists who intend to kill or seriously harm large numbers of people by attacking the U.S. food supply are unlikely to succeed, maintains Doug Archer, a food science professor at the University of Florida's Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, Gainesville, and former deputy director for the Federal Food and Drug Administration's Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition. "News reports have raised fears about terrorists attacking the nation's food supply, but when you examine the list of known biological and chemical agents, not many would be successful at harming people on a large scale."

He concedes that attacks may be possible, but argues that agricultural plants or animals are a different matter than contaminating the endpoint of the food supply. "Viruses or bacteria that affect cattle, swine, or plants are relatively easy to spread, but the important point is that those attacks are unlikely to seriously harm many humans. The potential damaging effects of terrorist attacks on the food supply would mostly be financial and psychological."

During his tenure with the FDA, Archer assessed and reviewed designs of numerous food facilities to ensure food safety. He stresses that it is important to differentiate between large-scale food terrorism and product tampering, such as the scare in 1982 when seven people died after taking cyanide-laced Extra-Strength Tylenol. "Small-scale product tampering occurs on a regular basis around the world," notes Archer, who has served since 1990 on the World Health Organization's Expert Advisory Panel on Food Safety. "Those incidents are hard to defend against, but the industry is reassessing issues such as food packaging in light of the Sept. …

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