US Senator Claire McCaskill, William Bryan, Homeland Security, Senator Pat Roberts
US Sen. Claire McCaskill, William Bryan, Undersecretary for Science and Technology for the Dept. of Homeland Security, and Sen. Pat Roberts participated in a roundtable discussion of ways to better protect the US food supply from terrorist attacks.
KANSAS CITY, Mo. – The Agricultural Business Council of Kansas City hosted a forum that included US Sens. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) and Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), who joined stakeholders in agriculture and homeland security to discuss how the United States can better defend the nation’s food supply against terrorism.

The forum comes less than two months after President Trump signed the Securing our Agriculture and Food Act, which was sponsored by Roberts and McCaskill in the US Senate. The act codifies the Dept. of Homeland Security’s role as the coordinator of food, agriculture and veterinary defense against terrorism. The roundtable discussion held Aug. 18 at the American Royal offices in Kansas City, Missouri, included representatives of agencies tasked with responding to an agroterrorism incident.

“I don’t want to scare anybody, or signal that we have an immediate problem, but you never know,” Roberts explained.

US Senator Pat Roberts
Sen. Roberts said the time has come for a joint Congressional hearing on the work being done to combat agroterrorism.

Kansas, Missouri and other states where agriculture represents major industries are especially vulnerable to an attack. Agriculture contributes $67.5 billion annually to the economy in Kansas, while agriculture generates $88.4 billion in Missouri, according to the Agricultural Business Council of Kansas City. Further, Missouri has the second-largest number of farms in the United states and is a top producer of soybeans, corn, rice and other crops.

In Kansas, there are approximately 60,000 farms, and in 2016, the state was the leading producer of sorghum, second in wheat, third in cattle with 6.4 million head and 10th in hogs and pigs.

McCaskill applauded the interagency cooperation already underway, but she said more work needed to be done. Deploying vaccinations in the event of an animal disease outbreak was one issue raised during the discussion.

Lenexa, Kansas-based Ceva Animal Health LLC, a global veterinary health company, has participated in the vaccine bank for avian influenza, but building a vaccine bank wasn’t enough, Ceva CEO Craig Wallace said. “There’s not a strategy, at this point, for going from a vaccine bank to a protocol for how we roll this product out into the field and vaccinate birds.”

General Lee Taffenelli
Gen. Lee Tafenelli, Adjutant General of Kansas, said "all disasters are local. They start locally, and they end locally."

“When we look at the strategy for protecting our food supply, to me it would make sense that there would be an over-arching strategy that would include not just the development of a bank, but the process for executing it,” he added.

Adequate funding for research activities at the National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility (NBAF) in Manhattan, Kansas, workforce development and training the next generation of food-animal veterinarians also were concerns raised by the panel.

Roberts said the time has come for a joint Congressional hearing to make public the work being done toward agroterrorism preparedness and prevention, and he noted that money and attention dedicated to food defense have waned.

“A lot of things have happened. The national media, with all due respect, you focus on what’s happening now, and there are other things, obviously, that represent a threat to this country and that’s where they focus; they focus on the hot spots. Well, there are other areas that could be equally as dangerous and you have to keep that in mind,” Roberts said.

McCaskill added that some threats may be more dangerous but are not immediately visible like the recent terrorist attacks in Barcelona. She offered cyberattacks as an example.

“Most Americans are not seeing what’s going on in terms of cyberattacks; you hear about it second-hand,” she said. “It’s not as visual, and therefore not as easily consumed by the public as some other kinds of terror threats, and that’s one of the things we struggle with: How do we keep problems that could be serious on the front burner; getting the resources and attention they need?”

Also participating in the roundtable discussion were:

  • William Bryan, acting undersecretary for Science and Technology
  • Ted Elkin, deputy director for Regulatory Affairs, Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition (CFSAN) of the US Dept. of Health and Human Services
  • Jere Dick, associate administrator, USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS)
  • Dr. Marty Vanier, director of Partnership Development, NBAF
  • Jonathan Greene, deputy assistant secretary and director, Human Threats Resilience Division, Office of Health Affairs
  • Dr. Tammy Beckham, Dean, College of Veterinary Medicine, Kansas State Univ.
  • Dr. Carolyn Henry, Interim Dean, College of Veterinary Medicine, Univ. of Missouri
  • Brandon Depenbusch, vice president of Cattle Operations, Innovative Livestock Services
  • Gen. Lee Tafenelli, Adjutant General of Kansas
  • Lt. Col. Robert Payne, Missouri National Guard

Cliff Becker, chairman of the Agricultural Business Council and vice president, moderated the discussion.