All 13 states in the Midwest Governors’ Conference will have someone at today’s (Monday) forum in Omaha to talk about preparations to counter agro-terrorism. Dr. Peter Chalk, a policy analyst at the Rand Corporation, will be one of several national experts to address the meeting.He says agriculture’s vital to the economic status of the country, and it’s particularly vulnerable to disruption. He says it’s easier to use biological agents against livestock than people, and he points out there are more to choose from, many highly infectious and most animals aren’t vaccinated against them all. Chalk says it’s easier to get hold of crop or livestock disease agents than human germs like smallpox and points to last year’s panic over foot-and-mouth disease to show how serious an outbreak could be. Even if there isn’t any terrorist attack, Chalk says agriculture’s likely to be hit at some point with a livestock epidemic, perhaps as widespread as the concern over foot-and-mouth last year in England. He says the kinds of policies put in place to cope with attacks also can help mitigate a natural outbreak of crop or livestock disease. Dr. Chalk admits agro-terrorism likely isn’t the first choice of method for activist groups to attack the U-S.Killing cows or infecting hogs, he says, doesn’t have the visual impact of crashing a plane into the Pentagon. But nonetheless it could do huge economic and emotional damage to the country, and Chalk says more than a lot of other Homeland Security measures, money spent in defense against agro-terrorism can be a valuable investment to help cope with outbreaks that are not caused by terrorism.
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