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Terrorists seeking to strike a blow at the U.S. economy need look no further than the Nation’s heartland for a “soft” target. An agroterrorist attack could dramatically impact many aspects of American life, including local law enforcement, which— especially in rural areas—is financially and strategically unprepared to respond.
Agricultural experts say that today they are most concerned about the intentional introduction of foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) into the food supply. Twenty times more infectious than smallpox, FMD causes painful blisters on the tongues, hooves, and teats of cloven-hoofed animals (like cows, pigs, goats, and deer), rendering them unable to walk, be milked, eat, and drink. Although people generally cannot contract FMD, they can carry the virus in their lungs up to 48 hours and transmit it to animals. The animal-to-animal airborne-transmission range of FMD is 50 miles.
The introduction of FMD in the United States—with its generally open and difficult-to-protect farms, fields, and feedlots—would require the mass slaughter of animals and the disposal of potentially millions of animal carcasses. It could halt the domestic and international sale of meat and meat products for months or even years. Based on the FMD outbreak in the United Kingdom in 2001, researchers estimate that an attack against the American livestock industry could cost taxpayers up to $60 billion.