IFT summit urges food research to focus on defense against terrorism

Intensifying collaborative research on methods to detect intentionally contaminated food and decontaminate affected food processing systems should receive greater focus to ensure the safety of consumers and protect the U.S. food supply from terrorist attack. This and other recommendations for coordinating food security research efforts across the nation mark the conclusion of an early April summit of food experts organized by the Institute of Food Technologists.

Experts participating in the three-day conference co-sponsored by the National Center for Food Protection and Defense in Minnesota included scientists with federal regulatory and law enforcement agencies, the U.S. Armed Forces, food processing and retail industries, universities, and others.

"Food security was not invented as a result of September 11," says Douglas L. Archer, co-chair of the IFT summit, professor of food science at University of Florida and former U.S. assistant surgeon general, "But it gained necessary attention. Just not enough."

IFT summit participants urge research to concentrate on preventing intentional contamination and preventing contaminated food from reaching the market. Additional research recommendations include, but are not limited to:
  • Optimal, adaptive detection systems for toxic or virulent agents
  • Effective decontamination methods to restore affected food processing systems, and
  • Decontamination of the affected food for safe disposal
  • Opportunities for existing technology transfer and new technologies to enhance tracking and tracing of deadly agents and food
  • Assessing agents of greatest risk and their potential food vehicles
  • Effective risk communication before, during and after a contamination event or hoax
Biological, chemical, radiological and nuclear contamination was all considered during deliberations. Also reviewed were select historical records of intentionally introduced contamination by cults and lone perpetrators, unintentional foodborne illness outbreaks, and naturally occurring livestock disease outbreaks.

The U.S food supply system is extremely complex, making it difficult to defend.

There are more than 200,000 companies domestically and internationally contributing to the nation's food supply. There are more than 900,000 restaurants employing 12 million employees. Approximately 100 million head of cattle are raised in 49 states.

Business directly associated with food account for 13 percent of the U.S. gross national product and 18 percent of the U.S. employment base. Agricultural activities account for more than $1 trillion annually, and more than $50 billion in exports.

A report issued in March by the U.S. Government Accountability Office noted that advances in food security have been made since September 2001, but much more is necessary.

"Food security is not solely a U.S. issue," said Archer. "A de-stabilization of the food system in any country can impact the U.S. food supply. And any negative impact on U.S. food can, in turn, affect countries receiving U.S. exports."

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