Monterey County Herald | 09/13/2006 | Fighting terror in the fields: “Salinas Valley: Seminar looks to prevent potential agriculture attacks in area
By DANIA AKKAD
Herald Salinas Bureau
Protecting Salinas Valley produce from an agro-terrorism attack could be as easy as getting growers, pest control advisers and other workers to keep their eyes open for anything out of the ordinary.
That was the message from federal and state regulators and researchers at an agro-terrorism awareness training seminar in Salinas on Tuesday morning, sponsored by the Salinas Valley chapter of California Women for Agriculture.”
The meeting was the first of its kind in the area, designed for people in the fields and in processing plants to learn directly from the agencies involved in food defense what they can do in the event of an attack.
“There have been a couple of seminars,” said agricultural consultant Sharan Lanini, who helped organize the seminar, “but they’ve largely been for government types and first providers. This is really intended for the industry.”
An act of agro-terrorism, the intentional contamination of produce and livestock, could come in the release of an exotic pest or a disease pathogen into the country’s food supply, speakers said.
Since the Sept. 11 attacks, there have been no documented cases of such an attack in the United States. Some speakers Tuesday said Monterey County is an unlikely target for that kind of event.
That is because the local industry grows such a variety of crops, it would be hard to attack a large amount of produce at once.
Nonetheless, the industry, researchers and regulators have been preparing for a potential attack since before Sept. 11 as part of a general strengthening of food-safety efforts.
Even if there is never an agro-terrorism attack, preparations could benefit efforts to curb contaminations of produce that are unintentional, such as recent E. coli outbreaks related to leafy greens.
The source of E. coli in many of the outbreaks has often proved hard to identify. Developments in pathogen detection for agro-terrorism prevention could easily lend themselves to foodborne illness-outbreak research, said Steve Koike, a plant pathologist at the University of California Cooperative Extension in Salinas.
“Worldwide, are terrorists going to look at broccoli and introduce a foodborne human pathogen? Who knows?” Koike said. “I think (the threat) is relatively low. But it’s important to ask the question.”
The focus of those involved in food-safety defense, said several speakers, is improving communication between all parties who would need to be involved in the event of a food-related emergency.
On the federal and state level, for example, there are at least 10 agencies that oversee some aspect of the country’s food supply, said Tom Sidebottom, special assistant for science with the Food and Drug Administration.
“There isn’t a sign that comes up and says ‘Call 1-800-FERN,'” he said, referring to the Food Emergency Response Network developed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture in 2005. “The integration will be established through links already there.”
Called the First Detector program, the training is conducted by the National Plant Diagnostic Network, a consortium of plant pathology labs across the country.
“The thing to bring home is that you are all out there,” Richard Hoenisch, the network’s western region training coordinator, told seminar attendees. “You’re eyes, you’re ears and you know your crops.”
At the UC Cooperative Extension in Salinas, Koike, who is part of the network, runs a diagnostic lab capable of detecting a range of plant pathogens — one of a handful of such labs statewide.
When Koike looks at plants under a microscope, he can easily send the images online to a network of plant pathologists to alert them about what is happening in local fields. Unlike counties that must send their plant samples away for diagnosis, 90 percent of local plant samples are handled in his lab, Koike said.
“Salinas Valley has a very good model,” he said. “We are already a good case study for the state of California and beyond.”
Dania Akkad can be reached at 753-6752 or email@example.com.
A free training workshop on “Understanding the Dangers of Agro-terrorism” will be held from 9:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Friday at the Hartnell College Extension Campus, 117 N. 2nd St., King City, presented by the Western Institute for Food, Safety and Security.
The seminar is open to U.S. citizens only and is aimed at law enforcement, emergency responders, health officials, agricultural officials and industry representatives, veterinarians and others in the agricultural field. A catered lunch is included.
If you go What:”Understanding the Dangers of Agro-terrorism” workshop When:9:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Friday Where:Hartnell College Extension Campus, 117 N. 2nd St., King City Who should attend:Law enforcement, emergency responders, health officials, agricultural officials and industry representatives, veterinarians and others in the agricultural field Information:Sharon Avery, call (530) 757-8311, firstname.lastname@example.org Registration:Maria Vicino, fax (530) 297-6304 or email@example.com