Earlier this year the discovery of a single cow with bovine spongiform encephalopathy, better known as mad cow disease, crippled the Canadian cattle market. In 2002 the mere rumor of foot-and-mouth disease in Kansas sent shock waves through the American cattle industry. And the discovery of exotic Newcastle disease in southern California led to the destruction of millions of chickens and prompted many countries to ban poultry coming from the area--and, in some cases, from the entire U.S.
Terrorists probably had nothing to do with the incidents, but agriculture and homeland security officials cite these and similar events in describing the possible effects of a bioterror attack on domestic agriculture. Officials take such a threat seriously--the terrorist group Al Qaeda long ago put the U.S. food supply on its list of potential targets. The federal government is working to bolster the nation's readiness for an agroterror attack--and some of their assessments suggest significant vulnerabilities that critics say are not getting enough attention.