Day after day we sit and listen to the news or read in the newspapers about the war in Iraq-the daily suicide bombers, executions and shootings with innocent civilian and American lives lost. Back in the Homeland, our nation is transfixed on the decision about who will lead our country for the next four years.

Whether it's the war in Iraq, the economy, education or health care that happens to be the top priority on your voting agenda for the November election, the war on terrorism and its affect on the food industry have to be a top priority on your professional agenda.

According to Food Engineering reader surveys going back at least a decade, food safety and product safety, as it relates to both processing and packaging, have always been and will continue to be a top priority in the food industry.

However, a decade ago, not too many of us could have predicted that terms such as Homeland Security and Bioterrorism Act would become part of the food industry vernacular.

Today, the food industry's top priorities also include the quest for more automation, labor reduction, quicker changeovers and extended runs.

Challenges also include the rising costs of supplies and utilities, the staying power of the low-carb diet and increasing pressures from customers and consumers alike. Some of the challenges on the horizon include RFID, greater globalization of the industry and more competition from imports.

As a result of the war on terrorism, phrases such as tracking and tracing and plant security have also increasingly become a part of our reality. Some may argue that tracking and tracing and increased plant security should have been part of the plan all along to keep the food supply safe. However, few will argue that the threat of terrorism on our food supply is what has caused these issues to become a top priority today.

Implementing these new systems is expensive. Depending on plant size, state-of-the-art security and tracking and tracing installation could cost upward of $200,000 each in one location and more than a few million dollars for major manufacturers with multiple plants. In the current manufacturing environment, we have to consider these safety systems as the cost of doing business in the food industry in an era of terrorism.

Once again, it's the food industry that has to pick up the check, forcing manufacturers to become smarter, swifter, connected, and technologically advanced.

While the technology is expensive, the payback is priceless if lives are saved.