Originally created 01/16/04

Prevention efforts sought for agricultural terrorism



South Carolina is being targeted as a proving ground for new cattle herding and breeding techniques that could be useful in the defense against agricultural terrorism.

Rep. Gresham Barrett, R-S.C., will be in Norway from Saturday to Tuesday to speak with members of the country's parliament about its decades-old national herd monitoring system, which has greatly reduced cattle inbreeding.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture says inbreeding weakens cattle, leaving them susceptible to disease-causing bacteria that terrorists could put in cattle feed, Mr. Barrett said.

The congressman said Thursday that he plans to seek funding for Clemson University that would allow the school to research some of Norway's techniques.

Dr. Jones Bryan, an associate dean with the school's Animal and Veterinary Sciences Department, said Norway's cattle are uniquely engineered to resist several diseases, though it's not clear if they could withstand some diseases indigenous to the South.

"I think bioterrorism is a very serious threat to the whole food, animal industry," Dr. Bryan said.

Officials are taking agricultural terrorism seriously after finding USDA food safety manuals in Afghanistan that had been translated into Arabic, said Van Hipp, the chairman of American Defense International, an organization that seeks new ways to provide homeland security.

"It would take a few years, but we got to start," he said, referring to breeding techniques that could strengthen the country's cattle.

A cow infected with disease can't be sold for human consumption. If whole herds were infected, it could destabilize the economy, which industry experts feared would happen last month when reports of mad cow disease surfaced in Washington state.

"That's one of our greatest fears in terms of agricultural terrorism," said Greg Henderson, an agricultural extension agent with Clemson University who works with cattle farmers in Aiken and Edgefield counties.

"And when you hear of a problem in the beef industry, it spins off into other industry," he said.

Reach Josh Gelinas at (803)279-6895 or josh.gelinas@augustachronicle.com.