DHS officials ponder effects of foot-and-mouth outbreak

US - The Homeland Security Department's senior adviser for weapons of mass destruction said late last week that the introduction of foot-and-mouth disease on American soil would have a tremendous effect on the U.S. economy, whether the outbreak is intentional or accidental.
calendar icon 6 November 2006
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Maureen McCarthy, the weapons adviser, on Friday told attendees of the Association for Intelligence Officers' annual convention that such an outbreak would cost the American agriculture economy "hundreds of billions" of dollars and could shutter some trade borders for "years" if officials deem it necessary.

"It will happen instantly," she said of the financial and trade impact, "even if there are no deaths."

During a discussion that in part focused on how biological agents might be used against the United States, McCarthy said foot-and-mouth disease could be used by terrorists. However, she told Government Executive after the discussion that there is no existing intelligence indicating such a plot.

Still, she said, because of the nation's dependence on its domestic agriculture, the industry might be a salient target. "We have an agrarian nation," McCarthy said. She added that simultaneous breakouts of foot-and-mouth disease in several locations could be a signal of an attack.

Last year, DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff told members of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee that the potential for a biological attack on the U.S. agricultural system is a "priority concern."

Acknowledging the potential for disastrous consequences for the agriculture industry and the American economy, Kimothy Smith, DHS chief veterinarian and acting director of national biosurveillance, said that in the event of a foot-and-mouth outbreak, it would be possible to implement import bans on a nation-by-nation basis.

Source: govexec.com
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