Study looks at food terrorism risks

| 2/11/2008

Following the September 11 attacks, there has been a heightened awareness that the nation’s food supply could be at risk for possible attacks.

With that awareness, there has been increased focus on the need to implement food security measures – especially at the borders – to protect the food supply.

Arizona State University Associate Professor William Nganje, along with four other ASU faculty members, recently received a grant for about $263,000 to study the economic impact of what could happen in the event of an agroterrorism attack. The study focuses on the transportation of imported produce coming through the border between Arizona and Nogales, Mexico, which is one of the busiest ports at the Southwest border.

Nganje told Land Line on Friday, Feb. 8, that during the winter season from October to May, as many as 900 produce trucks pass through that port every day. Nganje said that only three trucks out of every 100 trucks coming across the border are inspected. Also, only 3 percent of the boxes on those trucks are inspected.

“There is no way inspectors can examine every truck and every box of produce that comes across the border,” he said.

In the 1980s, agroterrorism was used in countries like Israel, where mercury was used to poison vineyards. Another example Nganje uses is when cyanide was found in imported Chilean grapes that were imported into the U.S.

“Terrorists have two goals when they do something like this: to kill and to bankrupt and crumble the economy in that system,” he said. “This is why we are conducting the vulnerability assessment from the farm in Mexico to the warehouse in the U.S.”

Nganje said he and the other ASU researchers are working with Mexican authorities and organizations such as the Nogales Port Authority, Fresh Produce Association of the Americas and CAADES, an organization of Mexican fruit and vegetable growers and processors.

The National Center for Food Protection and Defense funded the project. Nganje said the ultimate goal of the project is to help the NCFPD create food safety policies to prevent future intentional contamination incidents in the food supply chain.

OOIDA has also weighed in on the food security issue. OOIDA Regulatory Affairs Specialist Joe Rajkovacz recently gave a presentation from the transportation perspective to the National Grocers Association on the issue of food security.

– By Clarissa Kell-Holland, staff writer