Altus officials plan for potential "agro-terrorism" attacks

Altus_An "agro-terrorism attack" is a deliberate attack on commercial crops and livestock populations with viruses and fungi, and by targeting U.S. agriculture, terrorists could have the potential of attacking our economy, food supply, and local structure - simultaneously.  So, the Oklahoma Extension Service and the Oklahoma Department of Food and Forestry were in Altus on Monday, teaming up to educate the community to make it through a potential disaster with minimul impact.

If U.S. livestock alone were targeted, it would be devastating.  In order to contain an outbreak of Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD), health and government agencies would have to act fast since the disease - under the right conditions - could spread through the air 30 miles per day.

Altus County Commissioners, Sheriff and Police Departments, and Emergency Management Officials, came together to develop a plan to prepare for a potential attack on their community.  Food, Animal Quality and Health Specialist Gene Parker says that if crops and livestock were attacked, the U.S. economy would plummet.  "It's the second highest economic grossing product behind the oil and gas industry," he said.  "The initial response is going to depend on local officials and when the state Department of Agriculture initiates plans to control movements of animals to get a handle on the disease.  That's going to require a lot of local resources and help to do that."

Oklahoma is an ideal target for "agro-terrorism."  "Anywhere that agriculture is important is a potential target," says Parker.  "Oklahoma is a major beef cattle state as well as crop production.  It's also a major transportation center and crossroads for a lot of livestock movement."  He says an attack's impact would be incalculable.  "The cost of the disease outbreak would be proportional to the time it takes to contain it."

He says that safeguarding crops and livestock is impossible at this point.  "We're quite vulnerable because agriculture is so widely dispersed," he says.  "It makes it impossible to protect it."  The cost to eradicate a disease can cost $1 million per day, and it would take resources at every level to pay for it.  "This is going to involve state and federal resources," says Parker.  "Agriculture is a critical infrastructure that means it rises to the top immediately.  If something happens it will be deemed a national emergency."

The goal of the meeting was to plan the best possible response to an agricultural attack.  "We probably, ultimately, can't stop something from happening," he says.  "Although, the more prepared we are we can detour some of that.  More importantly when it does happen we will be in the best possible position to respond to that."

If you notice unusual signs of an animal illness, contact your local veterinarian or extension agent.  the easiest way to combat infection is early detection.