Living in the Brazos Valley does not mean we're immune to a terrorist attack. In fact, many experts believe our region is actually more vulnerable to a specific type of terrorism, one that could have a devastating, long-term effect.
It's called agro terrorism, the intentional introduction of dangerous diseases to livestock and crops with the ultimate goal of disrupting the food supply. "Osama Bin Laden has been very clear," said Jason Moats, author of "Agro Terrorism: A Guide for First Responders." "His point isn't necessarily to kill Americans, although that is part of it. His point is to undermine the economic base of the U.S. And what better way to do it than attack the food."
And even though an agro attack wouldn't produce images like we saw on September 11, 2001, Moats believes it has the potential to be one of the most expensive, most widespread acts of terror our country could experience.
"Probably the scariest scenario is foot and mouth disease," Moats said. "And it's because foot and mouth disease takes one virus particle, called a viron, to be an infectious dose." It's an opinion shared by Dr. Garry Adams, Associate Dean for Homeland Security with the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences. "That particular disease would be devastating to our economy, to our agricultural economy, to the animal production economy."
Foot and mouth is extremely contagious among cattle, hogs, sheep and goats. Humans can't catch it, but animals that do have to be destroyed quickly in hopes of containing it.
"This stuff can spread in, I believe, seven-14 days from the time it's introduced to the animal until the time it starts to show signs or symptoms," Moats said. "So we could be well into a second or third wave of this. And it spreads like wildfire."
Depending on the extent of the spread, meat and dairy shortages would occur, those whose jobs are connected to agriculture would be out of work, and if you live inside the infected area, you're stuck. "When Great Britain had their event several years ago, they didn't even allow tourists into the area," said Dr. Dave McIntyre, Texas A&M Director of Integrative Center for Homeland Security. "Tourism was tremendously damaged. They didn't allow foot traffic or pedestrians."
And Moats said it's that kind of fear and disruption that makes agro terrorism so attractive to terrorists. "We know that countries like Iraq, Iran and Cuba had weaponized certain agents against agriculture." McIntyre added, "There have been a number of indicators found at terrorist camps overseas, Afghanistan and other places indicating that terrorists know about the vulnerability. They know about the ease of transmission and they're interested in doing that."
As dire as the situation appears, there is good news. Much is being done to prevent an agro attack or at least minimize the damage of one. That topic will be explored Friday in Part 2 of agro terrorism on KBTX.COM.