Low global stocks, high commodity prices and competition between food versus fuel, mean food security has once again hit the headlines.
Combine this with the increased terrorism threat around the world since 9/11 and it is perhaps no surprise that the issue of bioterrorism was brought to the fore at this year’s British Crop Production Council (BCPC) conference in Glasgow (15-18 October).
“Some still question whether it’s a legitimate topic,” said Jim Stack of Kansas State University. “But the events of 9/11 and the anthrax attacks in the mail system, highlighted the vulnerability of basic infrastructures – one of which is food production.”
Many countries had explored the use of ‘agroterrorism’, John Foster of Nebraska University added. “Germany and France conducted experiments with potato beetle in the early 1930’s, Japan has explored the use of fungi and more recently Iraq experimented with wheat stem rust. If it can be done, someone will try to.”
In the US, protection from new pathogens and insect pests was largely the responsibility of the Department of Homeland Security and USDA and two disease surveillance systems (National Plant Diagnostic Network and Pest Information Platform for Extension and Education) were in place, Prof Stack said.
Although it may be difficult to distinguish between natural and deliberate introductions of pathogens or pests, the threat was real and quick action, plus cooperation was vital to minimise economic impacts, he warned.
“Agriculture is global in nature and many of the natural barriers have been removed, so international cooperation is crucial.”
NIAB’s Jane Thomas said there had been increased awareness of the bioterrorism threat in Europe and the UK was three years into a European food and crop security project, which aimed to identify potential pathogen threats, their impacts and how to detect and control them.
“There are around 50 pathogens on the ‘hit list’, some of which already exist in Europe, while others are on the quarantine list.”
To establish a European monitoring network like that developed across America would require a great deal of investment and cross-border cooperation, Prof Stack noted. “The events of 9/11 meant US policy makers were willing to invest resources. Europe has greater challenges to develop cooperation and should do more.
More stories from the BCPC Congress:
Insecticide resistant pollen beetles spreading to UK oilseed rape
Farmers and green must co-operate to keep share of EU budget
Generic agchem makers infringe patents
Mustard meal has herbicide potential
No resistance to boscalid found
Opposition to biotechnology will starve the world
Pesticide industry must spend more on PR warns Hampshire farmer