Agriculture officials talk bioterorism at conference

Thursday, September 18, 2003

Fears over a bioterrorism attack contaminating feedlots, cornfields, food processing plants and even restaurant buffet lines drew government and agriculture industry officials to the Iowa Food Security Conference on Tuesday to learn how to protect Iowa's food supply.

The two-day meeting examined emerging threats to the food chain, said Iowa's Secretary of Agriculture Patty Judge.

Up to this point the state's focus had mainly been on protecting agricultural production in the feedlots and the crop fields, she said.

"We know that in the case of an (terrorist) event that we also would have to include all of the stakeholders from the production clerk to the dinner table ... to start thinking of how we protect the food supply all the way to the consumer," Judge said.

Her department sponsored the conference along with the Iowa Homeland Security and Emergency Management Department and the Iowa Department of Inspections and Appeals.

During the meeting, which began Monday at the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation in West Des Moines, federal inspection officials talked about security guidelines for processing plants, while restaurant industry leaders outlined ways to keep food from being contaminated by terrorists, disgruntled employees or political activism groups.

Jorge Hernandez, vice president of food safety and risk management for the National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation, said food outlets from hot dog carts to multinational food suppliers have to be aware of the risks and develop security plans on how food is shipped, stored and served.

"Anyplace that a customer or a consumer can come and have access to it, they need to have a little bit of security in that area," he said.

Hernandez said Iowa is a leader in food security preparation. He said a similar conference was held in Oregon last week and that the state of Michigan has discussed such a meeting.

Judge said speakers at the Iowa conference focused on education and awareness as well as response plans, including food recalls and diverting livestock from contaminated areas in the event of a bioterrorism incident.

"We know how to put together eradication plans for disease for livestock, but this terrorist threat is a different thing because we really don't know where it is going to come along the food delivery chain," she said. "We really have to think about that."

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