State agriculture a target for terrorists, expert warns

Biological toxins most likely weapon, Casper tells conferees

July 16, 2002|By Ted Shelsby | Ted Shelsby,SUN STAFF

There will be other terrorist attacks on America, and agriculture is among the attractive targets, a state authority warned farm marketing officials from 20 states, Canada and Mexico yesterday.

"We will most likely get hit again, and it could be a hit on the agriculture community. It is the easiest to hit," Jacob Casper, coordinator of disaster services for the Maryland Department of Agriculture, told representatives attending the annual meeting of North American Agricultural Marketing Officials.

He said an attack would most likely involve biological toxins.

Bradley H. Powers, deputy secretary of the Maryland Department of Agriculture, which is sponsoring the four-day conference, said an introduction by terrorists of a disease such as Newcastle on the Delmarva Peninsula "would have a devastating impact" on the big poultry industry there.

"The domino effect would be enormous," he said, and "it would be felt throughout our entire economy."

Powers said it would take a toll on the tourism industry as well as the commercial eggs operation in Cecil, Kent and Carroll counties. "Our entire grain industry is dependent on broiler production. A lot of grain farmers would be in a lot of trouble."

Powers said poultry represents a $500 million industry in the state, accounting for about one-third of total sales at the farm level.

Casper warned farmers to be on constant lookout for signs of a terrorist attack.

In livestock operations, he said, it could take the form of a sudden increase in the number of animals becoming sick or dying. He said farmers should be suspicious of an outbreak of a disease at an unusual time of the year, and warned them to avoid self-diagnosis and to immediately call a veterinarian.

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