Terrorism and Food Safety

Oct 10, 2011 | Anna Tomasulo | Research & Policy

Early this morning, MSNBC released a report on the post 9/11 influx of foreign insects into the United States and the impact of this flood on the US food supply. 

According to Associated Press investigations, approximately 30 crop-threatening pests gained entry into the United States in 2010. In 1999, only eight were reported. 

The report outlines a few of the damage-causing insects that invaded: Mediterranean fruit flies, Asian citrus psyllids, light brown apple moths from New Zealand, rice cutworms, wasps and emerald ash borer beetles. It isn’t just insects invading, though. Foreign and pathogenic fungi and bacteria, such as sweet orange scab and citrus canker, have increased as well.

How are these pathogens entering the United States?

After the 9/11 attacks, in an effort to prevent further terrorist acts, there was a redistribution of resources. Agricultural scientists that had been employed to inspect for invasive species at borders were relocated to the Department of Homeland Security. The scientists were then expected to work in anti-terrorism activities. As a result, some airports, docks and other points of entry were left without any agriculture inspectors. An airport in Bangor, Maine has not had an agriculture inspector within 50 miles for over two years. 

Why is this important?

Without inspection, the United States may pay enormously in eradication programs and higher food costs. An economic analysis by Cornell University states that the annual cost of these invading pathogens is approximately $120 billion. 

These pathogens affect crops, kill trees, and induce pesticide spraying that, in turn, can affect other species. In fact, according again to Cornell University, in 2004, nearly 400 of the 958 species that were listed as threatened or endangered were listed as such due to threat from and competition with nonnative species.

Many of these pathogens do not directly harm humans. However, as David Pimentel et al., from Cornell posit, because there are so many invasive species now in the United States, the fraction of these that are directly harmful to human health does not need to be large for a significant impact to be felt.

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