What would be the consequences of attack on the agricultural sector?
Direct losses due to disease
Direct financial loss due to mortality or morbidity of domestic animals or crop plants can vary from insignificant to catastrophic. In many cases the direct losses would be modest and would fall on a small number of farms. One of the major determinants of the magnitude of the direct losses will be the rapidity with which the disease is noticed and diagnosed. In developed countries most of the foreign diseases of greatest concern would likely be identified fairly early, allowing the direct disease losses to be kept modest.
Losses due to efforts to contain outbreaks
The control of an outbreak of an imported, highly contagious animal or plant disease is routinely controlled by destruction of all potentially exposed healthy host organisms. With animal diseases, this normally means the slaughter of all host animals in the immediate vicinity. With plants, thousands of acres of crop plants may have to be destroyed to contain an outbreak. Thus the losses attendant on outbreak control can exceed, often by several orders of magnitude, the direct losses due to the disease itself.
Destruction of exposed hosts is often the only option when the agent is bacterial or viral. However, for fungal agents destruction of exposed crops may be reduced by the use of fungicides. However, this is an expensive process itself, so it adds significantly to the cost of the outbreak, and it may cause environmental damage.
A number of important threats to crop plants are from insect pests, rather than microbial pathogens. These outbreaks are usually controlled by use of pesticides rather than destruction of exposed plants, which, as with control of fungal disease, can cost large amounts. Widespread broadcast of insecticide may also cause environmental or human health damage as well. The BTWC certainly could cover pests as well as pathogens, as Article I refers to ãmicrobial or other biological agents,ä and the consultative process of the BTWC has been used to address concerns about a pest infestation in Cuba. However, this coverage has never been made explicit, and it would be useful to do so since there are so many insect pests of great potential for agricultural biowarfare or bioterrorism.
Losses due to sanitary or phytosanitary restrictions on international trade
Under the World Trade Organization, member states are allowed to impose import restrictions on agricultural products to prevent the importation of pests or disease agents. Thus importing countries free of a particular disease are usually quick to block imports from countries in which that disease breaks out. This happens frequently, as these diseases periodically resurface in areas that they have been absent from; trade restrictions typically last a month or two when control of the outbreak is rapid, or they may endure much longer if disease control is slow and difficult (eg the EU restriction on the import of UK beef due to the BSE outbreak).
Thus major agricultural exporters are particularly vulnerable. For instance, the Taiwan FMD outbreak in swine in 1997 probably only cost tens of thousands of dollars (US) in direct losses, but it cost 4 billion in eradication and disinfection costs, and a cumulative 15 billion in lost export revenues. An FMD outbreak in Italy in 1993 again had trivial direct costs, but nearly 12 million dollars in eradication and disinfection costs, and 120 million dollars in lost trade revenues. It has been estimated that an outbreak of FMD in California would cost a minimum of $6 billion even if the outbreak were confined to California and were eradicated within a few months. Obviously, an outbreak that spread country-wide would be very much more costly.
Alternatively, the introduction of a disease into a country previously free of it would undermine the legitimacy of that countryâs import restrictions under the WTO, forcing the lifting of the restrictions and opening up the market. This could bring significant additional losses to domestic producers.
Indirect effects (market destabilization, etc)
The substantial market effects of a widespread outbreak, or one that has major impacts on international trade, could have secondary effects, such as share-holder losses, revenue losses to processors and shippers, etc. In the extreme, if losses are very large and if future losses appear likely, significant levels of investor panic could lead to market destabilization.
A wide-spread outbreak of exotic animal disease is likely to be controlled by slaughter of exposed animals. This could lead, as did the 2001 outbreak of FMD in the UK, to the slaughter of millions of large animals. Disposal of this number of carcasses can have significant effects on air quality if the carcasses are burned, or water quality if they are buried and adequate care to protect the water table is not excercised.
If an exotic disease gets established in wild populations, it will be much more difficult to eradicate, and can have negative effects on biodiversity if eradication is attempted. For instance, FMD infects virtually all cloven-hoofed animals (and some others as well), and it could easily spread from domestic animals to wild deer, sheep, elk, or bison populations.