The Danger Posed by Bioterrorism, Exemplified Through Contaminating Food Supplies

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According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), bioterrorism is defined as the “deliberate release of viruses, bacteria or other germs (agents) used to cause illness or death in people, animals, or plants.” (CDC, 2007). Fortunately, the threat and use of bioterrorism throughout history has been limited; however, it still poses a significant risk to the stability of an affected society. One of the potentially most damaging means of bioterrorism involves direct contamination of food supplies.

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The result of a devastated food supply due to virulent plant pathogens has been historically well documented. Although these documented cases of wide spread disease were not intentionally caused, they provide clear illustrations of what results from a severe food shortages. Plant pathologists internationally have been working to implement and improve measures for crop biosecurity in order to combat bioterrorism threats toward agriculture. In the United States, the American Phytopathological Society has been taking steps to employ strategies that will help counteract the harm of potential bioterrorism threats. There are two main strategies that currently serve as the focus for developing crop biosecurity: “prevention and preparedness.” (APS, 2002). The legislative bodies in the United States, with input from the scientific community, have implemented infrastructure and policies that contribute to the prevention of bioterrorism involving plant pathogens. The scientific community has in turn focused on research that helps strengthen the country’s preparedness against bioterrorism threats of the agricultural nature. Establishing consistent policies for handling and transporting pathogens plus developing extensive databases for recognizing the genetics of various diseases are two of the major components that have been developed thus fair in contexts of crop biosecurity.

There are countless bacteria, viruses, and fungi capable of causing plant diseases. Despite the numerous diseases that exist, not all plant diseases can be utilized or modified for use as bioterrorism agents. The majority of plant pathogens do not inherently possess qualities ideal for use as a bioterrorism agents. Certain bacteria belonging to the genus Xanthomonas plus fungi belonging to the genera of Cochliobolus, Phytophthora, and Puccinia have been identified has having a potential for being used as agents of bioterrorism. (APS, 1999). In addition the organisms mentioned, new developments in producing genetically modified organisms can also introduce potentially dangerous plant pathogens.

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