Sunday, February 17, 2008

FBI Symposium on Agroterrorism

Last week there was an article on about an upcoming symposium that the FBI is conducting on agroterrorism. Actually it is the Third International Agroterrorism Symposium and it is being held in Kansas City on April 21st thru 24th. The focus of this year’s symposium will be:


“….the importance of food defense and the need to closely communicate and coordinate among private industry, law enforcement, government agencies, science, academia, and the health and medical professions in order to protect the global food supply.”


Now fighting agroterrorism and protecting chemical facilities against terrorist attacks are not one and the same thing. There are overlaps, however. Commercial or industrial agriculture as practiced in the United States is very much a chemical intensive operation. Many of the chemical used down on the farm are the same ones that DHS has identified as potential terrorist targets. The food processing industry also uses a number of chemicals that are found in Appendix A to 6 CFR part 27.


Unfortunately, looking at the published program for this symposium I see nothing about farm chemicals or food processing chemicals as potential targets of terrorist attacks. I would have thought that this would be a perfect opportunity for DHS to reach out to agriculture industry to explain what it was trying to accomplish with their CFATS program. Especially since agriculture has been the most potent political foe DHS has had to deal with in implementing these regulations.


In fact, there are two specific issues that DHS has with the agricultural production industry that need to be dealt with in the coming months and this might be an ideal venue to publicly bring that industry into the fold. The first, of course is the temporary agricultural exemption to the Top Screen (see: “Agriculture does not understand even the revised rules”). The second is the upcoming regulations on the sale of ammonium nitrate (see: “DHS and the Omnibus Spending Bill”).


Agriculture Top Screen Exemption


By the time that the end of April comes around DHS should have decided what they want to do about the various chemicals of interest from Appendix A that are wide spread on farms, ranches, etc. It would seem that some sort of abbreviated Top Screen would be the easiest way to get the required information into the CSAT system and eliminate 99% of the farmers and ranchers from the list of potential high-risk chemical facilities.


DHS needs to get these people to complete the Top Screen so that the CFATS system appears to be a fair and equitable attempt to identify all high-risk facilities. A careful explanation of that reality and an assurance to these farmers that DHS does not want to send their chemical facility inspectors out traipsing through barns and fields will go along way to ease the confrontation that has become such a political nightmare for DHS.


Ammonium Nitrate Sales/Transfer Rules


The new ammonium nitrate rules that DHS was directed to implement by Congress in the latest spending bill have the potential for being an even worse headache for farmers and DHS. These regulations are aimed directly at farmers and farm supply companies. They will certainly put a paperwork burden on a large number of farmers and small business people. DHS needs to reach out to the agriculture community early in this process if they are going to have any hope of avoiding a number of bruising political fights over these regulations.


DHS has a June 26th deadline to get a proposed regulation into the Federal Register. This April date would give DHS adequate time to get a general idea of what they want to do (and Congress was a little more specific this time than they were in the Section 550 instructions for CFATS). A good one-day round-table discussion at a forum like this would let DHS get their most vocal feedback on the table with time to make adjustments before the June deadline.


I hope that the lack of announced DHS participation at this FBI organized symposium is just one of those inevitable over sights on the part of both agencies. It would be a shame if parochial conflicts were the real reason that DHS is not on the program. Agriculture and the American people deserve better.

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