After September 11, FDA has been developing a three-part strategy to thwart food terrorism: anticipation, deterrence, and response.

“Protecting so many vital products against a determined enemy is a considerable challenge,” said FDA Deputy Commissioner Lester M. Crawford during a USDA advisory committee meeting on biosecurity preparedness plans. According to Crawford, trade globalization, growing dependence on commercially prepared food, people at special risk for foodborne disease, and the identification of five times the number of pathogens than 50 years ago make his job challenging.

To meet potential threats head on, government agencies have to anticipate where and in what form they may strike. That requires information about food assets; understanding the viability of possible contaminants; and intelligence about the capability and intent of potential aggressors who could target the food supply.

The Department of Health and Human Services has proposed a bill that would give FDA greater authority to protect the US market against contaminated or disease-causing imported food. The bill would strengthen FDA’s ability to trace such food to its origin, rapidly contain an outbreak, and take effective measures against repeat violators.

Congress is currently considering two bills that address some of these measures. If passed, the legislation would add to FDA’s response potential, said Crawford, which is the third component of FDA’s strategy to counter terrorism.

Crawford cited several factors in FDA’s response readiness:

  • “We’re fine-tuning our intelligence gathering efforts with the FBI, CIA and state and local law enforcement bodies. These contacts should provide us with an early warning about a potential terrorist threat and enable us to respond to it more effectively and in better coordination with others.
  • We’re contacting state and government laboratories to get their assistance if an emergency should require rapid testing of more food samples than can be processed in FDA’s facilities.
  • We’ve held one emergency response exercise with the Department of Defense, CDC, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and foreign governments who are our partners on the counter-terrorism team.”

“Of course, a terrorist attack on our food supply is not the only hazard we’re concerned about,” Crawford said. “We must pay serious attention to the continuing threat of BSE, the developing antibiotic resistance, and the complexities of food biotechnology.”