As the nation stopped to mourn the tenth anniversary of September 11 few need reminders that life after the attacks has changed. One change may have gone unnoticed – anti terror plans to the nation’s food supply. A paramount fear after 9/11 was the threat terrorists might posion the country’s food system. Days after the commemoration of the 10th anniversary of 9/11 a Senate subcommitte held a hearing to examine a congressional watchdog’s new report revealing federal setbacks in protecting cattle and crops since Sept. 11.
Seeking to chart the government’s advances, the AP interviewed dozens of current and former state and federal officials and analyzed spending and program records for major food defense initiatives, and found:
• The fragmented system leaves no single agency accountable, at times slowing progress and blurring the lines of responsibility. Federal auditors found one Agriculture Department surveillance program to test for chemical, biological, and radiological agents was not working properly five years after its inception in part because agencies couldn’t agree on who was in control.
• Efforts to move an aging animal disease lab from an island near New York City have stalled after leading scientists found an accidental release of foot-and-mouth was likely to happen at the new facility in America’s beef belt.
• Congress is questioning whether $31 million the Department of Homeland Security spent to create a state-of-the-art database to monitor the food supply has accomplished anything because agencies are not using it to share information.
• Despite the billions spent on food defense, many of the changes the government put into place are recommendations that the private sector isn’t required to carry out. As a result, it’s difficult to track successes and failures, and the system’s accomplishments are largely hidden from public view
Top U.S. food defense authorities insist that the initiatives have made the food supply safer and say extensive investments have prepared the country to respond to emergencies. Yet as the Washington Times reports the failure to designate a single agency has left food safety scattered between the USDA, FDA and Department of Homeland Security. After the hearing it will be telling what changes, if any are made to the program and the nation’s anti-terror plans for food.
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