Burr, Collins Introduce Agriculture and Food Defense Bill

Legislation designed to prepare for, detect, respond to, and recover from an agro-terror attack

U.S. Senators Richard Burr (R-North Carolina) and Susan Collins (R-Maine) today introduced the National Agriculture and Food Defense Act of 2007. The bill aims to help federal, state, and local governments work with private business to prepare for, detect, respond to, and recover from an agro-terror attack or deliberate food contamination.

"Our agriculture and food system is an important part of our nation's economy and our national security," Burr said. "This legislation will enhance the nation's ability to identify and respond to an agriculture or food emergency. The federal government must work more closely with state and local governments to make sure responsibilities are clearly defined and make certain the right people have the right resources to protect us from, and respond to, an attack. I urge my colleagues to support this legislation and I look forward to working on this important national security issue."

"Congress has recognized the threats to our seaports, chemical facilities, transportation, and critical infrastructure. We have acted to protect these vital systems that sustain our economy. We must also extend our homeland-security vigilance to the food that sustains our very lives," said Senator Collins.

This legislation responds to agriculture and food system vulnerabilities by establishing a roadmap to prepare for, detect, respond to, and recover from an agro-terror attack or catastrophic food emergency by taking five key actions. This legislation would:

• Put someone in charge by identifying the Secretary of Homeland Security as the lead coordinator of efforts to protect critical infrastructure and key resources, including the agriculture and food system in a national emergency. The Secretary of Agriculture would remain responsible for day-to-day oversight of agriculture as well as meat, poultry, and egg food products. The Secretary of Health and Human Services would retain responsibility for all other food products. The bill would also establish the Under Secretary for Protection, Preparedness, and Response at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to lead and coordinate USDA activities relating to agriculture and food defense.

• Require the development of a national strategy for protecting our agriculture and food system. The Department of Homeland Security, the USDA, and the Department of Health and Human Services would be required
to develop a coordinated national plan for agriculture and food emergency preparedness, detection, response and recovery.

• Improve food and agriculture defense at the state level by providing guidance, assistance, and financial support from the federal government.

• Enhance public-private partnerships. The majority of America's agriculture and food system is privately owned and operated. This legislation authorizes government and private sector coordinating councils to improve information sharing between government and private sector partners.

• Authorize and integrate nationwide animal, plant, and food diagnostic laboratory networks to speed up detection of animal and food-related emergencies. To rapidly respond to infectious diseases, the bill would authorize a stockpile of animal vaccines and drugs that can be deployed to an outbreak within twenty-four hours.

• Maintain the authority of individual states, the USDA, and the Food and Drug Administration to establish and enforce food safety standards.

The nation's agriculture and food system is open, complex, interconnected, and diverse, which makes it a target for terrorist attack. Many farms are geographically isolated and livestock is frequently concentrated in confined spaces. Eighty to ninety percent of U.S. cattle production is concentrated in less than five percent of the nation's feedlots. An attack on just one part of the production process could set off a devastating domino effect felt throughout America's food system, causing economic loss and effects on human health. Studies show a single agro-terrorist attack could cost the American economy up to $33 billion and kill or sicken thousands. The United Kingdom's Foot and Mouth Disease outbreak in 2001 caused approximately $5 billion in losses to that country's food and agriculture sector.

Text of the National Agriculture and Food Defense Act of 2007 can be downloaded in PDF format using the link below.