Federal Bureau of Investigation Section Chief Jenifer Smith, speaking to a general session of the third annual International Symposium on Agroterrorism in Kansas City, said keeping out diseases from U.S. crops and livestock is the number one priority for her division of the FBI, and an act of terrorism could come at any point in the production cycle.
People expect safe food, Smith said, plus it has a high value to the domestic economy. She noted commodities such as cattle, poultry, dairy, crops and hogs contributed $159.6 billion to the economy in 2004, adding that international trade is directly affected by the absence of disease in any commodity.
Smith said threats to the food supply can come from domestic and international sources. She said anti-biotechnical groups like the Earth Liberation Front and lesser-known domestic extremist groups often inflict vandalism and violence threats. Their efforts are meant to discourage research into genetically modified plants and organisms as well as disease research and have been successful in driving some scientists away from the research, she said.
In the post 9/11 era, Smith said it is imperative that more is done to pre-empt and disrupt potential acts of terrorism against U.S. agriculture. Because of this, the FBI is using the Patriot Act to clamp down on these groups to deter terrorist attacks in the U.S. and abroad, she said.
Those efforts tie in with the counter-terrorism work against groups like al-Qaida, Smith said. Such groups are well aware of the potential to terrorize and disrupt the U.S. economy, even if they have not yet chosen to do so, she said.
To accomplish that, Smith indicated that the U.S. has been working with other countries to track down reported terrorist plans. Just because there is no current obvious threat to the U.S. food supply doesn