Most of us don’t think much about the system that regularly lands food on our plates.
Sure, we may take note of the cost, if it’s something high end like filet mignon, or if a shortage drives up the price of an item we routinely buy.
But the security of our agricultural system doesn’t cross our minds. And terrorism? That’s something we think about in airports or in crowded places.
Richard Myers, the president of Kansas State University, said last week we should adjust our way of thinking about the security of our agricultural system.
In a sobering report to the U.S. Senate Agriculture Committee, Myers said our nation’s food supply is at risk.
“Key components of America’s critical infrastructure — agriculture and food — are vulnerable to terrorist attack with bioweapons and un-deliberate infectious disease outbreaks, and I think the U.S. is unprepared to confront those threats,” he said.
Myers has the background and experience to see the big picture on the issue. He’s president of a university nationally known for its work in agriculture, in a state largely driven by agriculture. He’s also a retired four-star general and a former chairman of the joint chiefs of staff who is familiar with the tactics of groups such as al-Qaida.
He noted, for instance, that al-Qaida has experimented with animal diseases if remote areas of Iraq.
Imagine the devastation and disruption that would be caused if a disease was introduced that wiped out herds of livestock. Imagine what would happen if basic crops such as corn or wheat were destroyed. The effects wouldn’t be limited to the United States, because, as Myers noted, “America still feeds the world. ...”
So what are we to do?
Basically the same things we would do to protect ourselves from more traditional threats. In this case, those steps involve research on infectious diseases and bioweapons.
Some of that work is already happening at Kansas State. And the National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility is being built adjacent to K-State, but won’t be operational until 2022 or 2023, Myers said.
Myers said more funding and an array of scientists, veterinarians and doctors are needed even before the National Bio and Ago-Defense Facility opens to protect our country. Sen. Pat Roberts suggested the recommendations be addressed in the next farm bill.
The federal government would be wise to take heed of what Myers has to say, and elected representatives should consider Roberts’ suggestion, as well. The safety of our food system and security of our country may depend on it.