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Agro-Terrorism Threats Predicted - 2001-10-21

A world authority on agriculture is warning of the potential dangers of agro-terrorism. The Director General of the International Center for the Improvement of Corn and Wheat, Timothy Reeves, says Western nations, especially the United States, must wake up to the risks of such attacks. Terrorists are already using insidious forms of biological warfare, via anthrax spores in the mail, targeting various political and media figures and organizations.

Timothy Reeves of the Mexico City-based International Center for the Improvement of Corn and Wheat says the potential for terrorists to severely damage the agricultural industry exists. Professor Reeves says such attacks would not require high-technology.

"We know that certainly during the Cold War there were countries that were developing particularly virulent strains of Wheat Rust - a fungus disease of wheat, with a view that one day it could be used, in fact, to disrupt crop growth and food supplies," he explained. "On the animal side, of course, one can imagine much more a country that has, for example, freedom from foot-and-mouth [disease] with someone bringing in foot-and-mouth disease, and that going through livestock. And," he added, "we know that has a tremendous effect directly on the economics of farming in a country [and] has long lasting effects on export markets. So it is an issue that needs to be looked at very carefully."

Professor Reeves says that the probable intention of an agro-terrorist, would be economic damage rather than death. He says Western countries, with highly developed agricultural sectors, must be alert to the overall implications.

He explains that heightened vigilance is vitally important because such an attack could be contained through preventative measures and failing that, swift reaction. "Other than someone being able to run riot with crop dusters and crop spraying, and spraying a whole range of material," he said, "I think the likelihood of it getting out of hand would be very small."

But Mr. Reeves and other experts are calling for stronger controls on crop dusting and distribution of agricultural chemicals, as well as stricter rules for agricultural experimentation.

The U.S. Agricultural industry, which employs tens of millions of people directly and indirectly, is easily the largest of its kind in the world. It generates billions of dollars of produce for national consumption and massive global exports. Professor Reeves is urging that with such a vital industry, common-sense prevention and extra alertness are infinitely preferable to protracted cures and wistful hindsight.