Protecting the U.S. Agriculture and Food Sector

The cultivation of crops and livestock remains a vital component of the nation’s economy. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the United States exported $137 billion in agricultural products in 2011, and the sector is one of the few to record an annual trade surplus. Recognizing the importance of U.S. agriculture and food systems ─ and their vulnerabilities ─ President George W. Bush signed Homeland Security Presidential Directive 9 (HSPD-9), “Defense of United States Agriculture and Food,” on 30 January 2004; that directive called specifically for the Food and Agriculture Sector’s protection as a matter of national security.

U.S. agriculture and food systems are open, complex, and interconnected by nature, and thus provide ample targets for terrorists seeking to harm the public and/or disrupt Americans’ way of life. A large-scale attack could cause catastrophic health and economic consequences and could require a long and/or complicated recovery.

To answer the threat, HSPD-9 established national policies to protect the nation’s agriculture and food systems against terrorist attacks, major disasters, and other emergencies. The directive defines the roles and responsibilities in this area for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and acknowledges the vulnerabilities of the nation’s agriculture and food systems to diseases, pests, and toxic agents – whether naturally occurring, accidentally introduced, or deliberately released. To meet the requirements spelled out in the directive, DHS has taken a number of constructive steps and coordinated extensively with its federal partners on other actions.

Roles and Responsibilities

HSPD-9 directs the various federal agencies involved to: (a) identify and prioritize sector-critical infrastructure and key resources; (b) develop the improved awareness and early-warning capabilities needed to recognize threats; (c) mitigate vulnerabilities at critical production and processing facilities; (d) enhance screening procedures for domestic and imported products; and (e) bolster preparedness to ensure effective response and recovery operations. The directive focuses special attention on 18 key requirements in six distinct areas of responsibility: Awareness and Warning; Vulnerability Assessments; Mitigation Strategies; Response Planning and Recovery; Outreach and Professional Development; and Research and Development.

HSPD-9 also designates the Secretary of Homeland Security to serve as: (1) the lead or co-lead, in coordination with partner departments and agencies, to implement the specific tasks assigned; and (2) coordinator of the efforts of all federal departments and agencies, state and local governments, and the private sector to protect critical infrastructure and key resources.

Additional roles and responsibilities are assigned, consistent with their mission areas, to other agency leaders – which include, but are not necessarily limited to: the Secretary of the Department of Agriculture; the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services; the Secretary of the Department of Interior; the U.S. Attorney General; the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency; and the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency.

Duties & Requirements, Summaries & Specifics

Following are brief summaries, under the “areas of responsibility” indicated, of other roles, duties, and requirements directed by HSPD 9.

Awareness and Warning: Under “Awareness and Warning,” DHS and other agencies are charged with developing a biological threat awareness capability – currently being undertaken through the National Biosurveillance Integration Center, which is managed by DHS. The center’s specific goal is to ensure that human, plant, animal, and environmental biosurveillance information is shared and promulgated throughout the federal government to facilitate early warning and situational awareness of biological events determined to be “of national concern.”

Mitigation Strategies: DHS contributes as a co-lead on a number of related mitigation efforts. For example, the DHS Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agency, USDA, and HHS have forged closer working relationships – most notably at the National Targeting Center and the Commercial Targeting and Analysis Center – to more effectively screen and inspect agricultural and food products entering the United States from other nations. CBP’s 2,400 highly trained agriculture specialists also work on the front lines at U.S. ports of entry to prevent the introduction of harmful pests, plants and plant diseases, animal products and diseases, and other biological threats. Most if not quite all of these threats are destructive, diverse, and often invisible to the untrained eye.

Response Planning and Recovery: DHS and its partner agencies coordinate on several fronts to ensure that combined federal, state, and local capabilities are adequate both to respond to and to quickly and effectively recover from incidents impacting the nation’s agriculture and food infrastructure. Within DHS itself, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has marshaled its programs and resources to support sector-specific response and recovery operations. In addition, FEMA’s National Preparedness Directorate has both funded and managed stakeholder training and education – made available primarily through universities, community colleges, and the agency’s own Center for Domestic Preparedness. Similarly, FEMA’s Grant Programs Directorate has funded numerous state and local government initiatives to enhance preparedness and upgrade the ability of the public at large to prevent, protect against, respond to, and recover from all hazards, including those involving agriculture and food systems.

DHS’s National Protection and Programs Directorate has already carried out vulnerability assessments of the beef industry in Texas and the dairy industry in California. These assessments are being combined with regional analyses of the surrounding infrastructure with the goal of reducing vulnerabilities to all-hazard threats. In addition, DHS developed a food emergency response plan template in 2006, working in coordination with the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture (NASDA), the Food Safety Inspection Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), and the Food and Drug Administration. The template helps protect the agricultural and food infrastructure through increased and improved prevention, detection, response, and recovery planning. (Last year, the DHS’s Office of Health Affairs and NASDA released a revised template to reflect new and more stringent federal guidelines.)

Outreach and Professional Development: The DHS Secretary is coordinating with a number of private-sector agencies and organizations to establish a more effective information-sharing and analysis mechanism for food and agriculture stakeholders. Such partnerships are key to continued progress in this area, particularly in light of the fact that the private sector owns and operates roughly 85 percent of the nation’s food and agriculture critical infrastructure. Here it should be noted, though, that; (a) threat information-sharing by the federal government is typically restricted to other public agencies; and (b) each sector already has in place various security programs, research and development activities, and other resources that may be more effective if shared with and discussed among partners.

Research and Development: The DHS Secretary has already consulted with a number of partner agencies to establish several university-based “centers of excellence” in the areas of food and agriculture security. The centers of excellence – which are managed by the DHS Science and Technology Directorate (S&T) – that have a specific food or agriculture nexus include: the National Center for Food Protection and Defense at the University of Minnesota; the National Center for Foreign Animal and Zoonotic Animal Disease Defense at Texas A&M University; and the National Center of Excellence for Emerging and Zoonotic Animal Diseases at Kansas State University. These centers already have trained hundreds of scholars and fellows and have pioneered several new technologies and both upgraded and expanded the mass of “critical knowledge” available consistent with the DHS mission.

In addition, DHS has already announced plans to build a new state-of-the-art biocontainment facility in Manhattan, Kansas, for the study of foreign animal diseases that threaten animal agriculture and public health. The proposed new National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility, currently in the design stage, will strengthen the nation’s capabilities to conduct research, develop vaccines and other countermeasures, and train veterinarians in preparedness and response against livestock diseases – specifically including emerging and zoonotic diseases – that are not endemic to the United States. The new facility will replace the Plum Island (New York) Animal Disease Center, which has served the nation for the past 50 years as the primary facility conducting such research and is today the only U.S. facility that specifically studies the live Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD) virus – the spread of which could be devastating to the U.S. cattle industry.

Additional DHS Efforts

The DHS S&T Chemical Biological Defense Division’s Agriculture Defense Branch develops new countermeasures against the intentional introduction or natural occurrence of catastrophic animal, plant, and zoonotic diseases. DHS S&T and the USDA’s Animal and Plant Inspection Service and Agriculture Research Service have developed the first new technology for the manufacture of a Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD) Virus vaccine in 50 years: an adenovector FMD virus vaccine (AdA24). More importantly, because the replication functions of the FMD virus have been removed, the FMD vaccine – which has already completed five safety studies (on cattle) – can be manufactured on the U.S. mainland.

In addition, DHS S&T provided funding and sought permission for Transboundary Animal Biologics Inc. to import FMD and Classical Swine Fever vaccines into the United States. Agreements have been established with Biogenesis-Bago in Argentina to facilitate the rapid import of a ready-made quadravalent FMD vaccine for use in the event of an outbreak of the disease; this would give USDA a new capability in an area important to the health of farm and ranch animals.

Although much remains to be done, the efforts already undertaken by DHS and its partner agencies in the implementation of HSPD-9 already have resulted in a more secure food and agriculture sector of the U.S. economy. Ensuring the safety, security, and resiliency of the nation’s food and agriculture infrastructure will undoubtedly remain a top federal priority for many years to come.

Douglas Meckes

Douglas Meckes, D.V.M. is the Chief of the Food, Agriculture and Veterinary (FAVD) Branch of the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Health Affairs (OHA).  FAVD provides DHS leadership with comprehensive, relevant, science-based information related to food, agriculture, animal health and veterinary public health.  The division also provides oversight and management of DHS’s implementation of the Defense of United States Agriculture and Food (Homeland Security Presidential Directive-9), integrating the efforts of DHS components, and coordinating with other federal, state and local governments, and the private sector.



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