Is the US Public Health/Medical System Prepared to Deal with an Agri-Terrorist Incident?
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Lack of attention to the security and protection of the agricultural sector in the U.S. economy can create a serious threat to the health and safety of the population. More importantly, it provides a favorable platform for a terrorist to apply to a biological weapon. Concerns with food safety are justified because of considerable problems in the sphere of organizational change and reporting exist. This is of particular concern to the problem of laboratory capacity in the country because it prevents constant and accurate reporting and surveillance about the state of food safety and its influence on human health. Because of this gap, it is impossible to prevent the risk of contagion and disease level among U.S. citizens. According to DeWaal and Barlow (2004), “the [Center for Disease Control]…should mandate reporting by states…and organize outbreaks by food hazard to increase the utility of its information” (p. 15). In this respect, the gaps are specifically threatening because of the new challenge of bioterrorism to the food supply. Better reporting and monitoring of food-poisoning outbreaks are mandatory, but a well-developed preventing system is much more important to reduce the frequency of foodborne illnesses.
Aside from preventive measures, the Public Health System should implement new regulatory and organizational changes to increase the authority of the government and develop a powerful network regulating food supply. The absence of a unified food-safety statute can undermine the authority of and public’s confidence in the government’s potential to stand a bioterrorist threat. Moreover, Chalk (2004) insists, “the combined effect of these factors could potentially initiate a change reaction of sociopolitical events, which…act to undermine the public trust in both state and federal governance” (p. 22). Public criticism can be developed, which can lead to greater concerns with the safety and protection of the country from bioterrorist attacks. Such a perspective can foster mass animal eradication because of the fear of being poisoned, as well as because of skepticism toward the government measures taken to introduce safety standards.
Lack of the capacity of the existing systems to respond to food contamination can create social instability. In particular, bioterrorist attacks can provoke anxiety and fear among the rural population, which can possibly lead to socially disruptive migrations. The greatest concern constitutes a zoonotic pathogenic outbreak, an illness that can be conveyed from animals to humans (Chalk, 2004). Such a perspective can cause panic among the population, as well as greater distrust of the governmental bodies. Aside from social disturbances, a negative impact can be on the economic and marketing system in the country because of the changing demands and price fluctuations. The above-presented challenges and threats prove that the United States has plenty of problems to solve and gaps to fill in.
Are the recommendations from “Agricultural bioterrorism: A federal strategy to meet the threat” proactive measures? If not, what would you suggest could be done to make them proactive? What would you add to the strategy to prevent bioterrorism?
Recommendations on enhancing security and protection provided by Parker (2003) touch on various spheres of health care and disease control. They also create the potential for developing all areas that are under the threat of terrorist intrusion. However, all these measures are not proactive ones because they are more focused on deploying the consequences and threats of bioterrorism, but not on preventing the actual possibility of the attack. Development of technologies and state-of-the-art tools to diagnose patients, establishment of sentinel network, regulation of surveillance and reporting, as well preparedness to respond to a threat do not imply an immediate reaction to the problem (Parker, 2003). Besides, all these recommendations are long-term and, therefore, they fail to address the current concern with food safety and health protection.
In this respect, the proposed recommendation should be reconsidered to include a prevention and response system that would enhance the proactive character of the protection systems. By increasing the capacity of the national security system to respond to the attacks, specific mechanisms should be worked out. These mechanisms should be similar to the ones that respond to other types of terrorist attacks. Therefore, the government should not underestimate the consequences of biological weapon intrusion. Prevention mechanisms should involve strict and immediate actions. According to the World Health Organization (2008), “sensible precautions, coupled with strong surveillance and response capacity, constitute the most efficient and effective way of countering all such emergencies” (p. 1).
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Hence, the network should be an organization with regard to all dimensions and spectrum of concerns among the U.S. population. Apart from social measures against food terrorism, technological advances should also be directed at highlighting all possible biological weapons, as well as predict the emergence of new threats. Forecasting, therefore, is the most effective approach to preventing terrorist intervention. In such a way, it is not only possible to detect the bioterrorist intention at the early stages of its planning, but also quickly outline proactive and effective strategies on its prevention (Zellen, 2004). Research on demographic data, as well as constant control of diseases statistics, regulation imposed on the national standards of food safety, particularly on the imported goods (Zellen, 2004). In general, the overall orientation on prevention and control should be two-fold. The first one is associated with long-term perspective, which identified by Parker and the second one is oriented on short-term goals that are necessary to react to the current concerns.
Chalk, P. (2004). Hitting America’s soft underbelly: The potential threat of deliberate biological attacks against the U.S. agricultural and food industry: The RAND Corporation. Web.
DeWaal, C.S. and Barlow, K. (2004). Outbreak Alert! Closing the gaps in our federal food-safety net. Web.
Parker, H.S. (2003). Agricultural bioterrorism: A federal strategy to meet the threat (No. McNair Paper 65): Institute for National Strategic Studies. National Defense University. Web.
World Health Organization. (2008). Terrorist threats to food: Guidance for establishing and strengthening prevention and response systems. Web.
Zellen, B. S. (2004). Preventing Armageddon II: Confronting the specter of agriterror. Strategic Insights, 3(12). Web.