The benefits of modern food production and distribution, which balance the aforementioned risks, are considered in the second paper in this chapter. Dr. Craig Henry demonstrates that increasingly globalized and sophisticated food supply chains have afforded cheaper food for much of the world’s population. He also discusses consumer and demographic trends that affect the food supply, including growing global demand for products that are not only tasty, convenient, and inexpensive, but safe as well.

THE FOOD SUPPLY AND BIODEFENSE: THE NEXT FRONTIER OF THE FOOD SAFETY AGENDA

Michael T. Osterholm, Ph.D.1

University of Minnesota

The interface between the international food supply system and terrorism has the potential to produce a catastrophic impact on both the health of consumers and the availability of and confidence in specific food products.

Former Secretary of Health and Human Services Tommy Thompson observed upon his resignation in 2004, “I, for the life of me, cannot understand why the terrorists have not, you know, attacked our food supply, because it is so easy to do” (Branigin et al., 2004). A few months later, Michael Chertoff, Secretary of Homeland Security, said that he “didn’t want to get up in public and say the sky is falling if it is not falling,” and stated that he was going to be “realistic and sensible and serious about the kinds of trade-offs that we have to consider when we are making decisions about protecting ourselves.” Although superficially contradictory, I would argue that these two remarks are consistent. They reflect the recognition that, four years after September 11, 2001, we cannot guarantee the safety of everyone and everything within our borders. We have to make critical decisions about which critical components of our everyday world to accord priority in protection or in response should an attack occur. I believe that the security of our food supply must be at the top of such a list.

Lester Crawford, a former commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), said in 2002, “To conclude that the use of food as an instrument of terror is unlikely would be looking at the world of today through the prism of the past. The terror of these times is based on a different note on a different scale.” The occurrence of unintentional foodborne illness already kills thousands of people each year in this country and sickens millions more. However, an inten-

1

Director, Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy; Associate Director, Department of Homeland Security National Center for Food Protection and Defense; Professor, University of Minnesota.



The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement