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On Location: WFFC Highlights Agroterrorism

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WFFC's annual business meeting featured a number of highlights, including scholarship awards and a recognition of past president Marie Cenno. In addition, the organization celebrated the addition of 60 new members in 2007.

During the event, FBI agent Peter Ahern spoke of agroterrorism and related threats to the American foodway. Essentially covering everything "from ground to table," agroterrorism is difficult to predict and prevent. Ahern admitted that this was the kind of challenge that keeps him up at night.

Unlike spectacular terrorist attacks around the world, Ahern explained that the real danger is the "lone wolf" terrorist. Because there are so many vulnerabilities, particularly on farms, just one person's actions, even if nominally effective, could cause widespread panic. Ahern cited the example of the aspirin poisonings of the early 1980s, which affected very few actual consumers but which inflicted mass fear and distrust of products on store shelves.

"It just takes one," Ahern said. "That's terrorism."

But wherever part companies play on the food chain, Ahern noted that no one is sufficiently prepared. He noted threats such as biological agents such as anthrax and foot and mouth, and some 551 foreign pathogens considered potential threats to US agriculture. In addition, consolidation among food companies has created centralized soft targets. Ahern bluntly asked the audience: what does your company spend on security. He speculated few could answer this. 

The main dangers of agroterrorism include lack of consumer confidence and loss of faith in the food supply. Yet, Ahern noted that the most likely attack on the US food supply could be digital. The agent noted that a cyber attack is the top threat to companies. And at stake is intellectual property. "Think of your vulnerabilities," he said. Our friends in the world, he noted, are our enemies by virtue that "they want what you have. "