How might attack on the agricultural sector be deterred?

Enact appropriate legislation

Enactment of legislation implementing the BTWC is required of all States Parties; however, many have not yet done so. Such legislation can be a significant deterrent to biological attack on the agricultural sector. The legislation should, among other provisions, provide for substantial criminal penalties for the hostile use anywhere of biological agents against plants or animals as well as people, and it should provide for extradition for anyone charged with using such agents against the agricultural sector of another state.

States that already have enacted such legislation should review its provisions to ensure that it adequately covers biological attack on plants and animals.

Insure early identification of outbreaks of exotic disease

Early identification of exotic outbreaks is critical, since it may make the difference between an easy to control outbreak and one that escapes control and assumes disastrous proportions. The UK FMD outbreak of 2001, which certainly cost many billions of dollars, is thought to have been so severe because it was not noticed for about a week after the initial introduction. However, few farmers, veterinarians, or plant pathologists are familiar with the symptoms of exotic diseases. Thus educational efforts to ensure that the people likely to first notice something wrong are sensitized to the possibility of exotic disease.

New diagnostics are also needed. Particularly for animals, the ability to diagnose infection prior to the onset of symptoms could allow control measures to be applied before any additional spread occurs, thus greatly facilitating control. Such diagnostics need to be sensitive and specific, and they must be portable and give rapid results. Such technologies are available for some diseases (eg FMD), but they are not available for many, and even where they have been developed they are still experimental.

For plants, early detection is particularly problematic. Since very large numbers of individual plants may be present in a given area, and since a very small proportion of these is closely observed by farmers, plant diseases can spread significantly before they are detected. Better techniques of detection of plant diseases are needed, perhaps ones that depend on remote sensing.

Insure effective control

A country that can rapidly and effectively bring an outbreak of exotic disease under control is not an inviting target for a bioterrorist, and is in addition better protected against naturally introduced disease. Effective control of exotic diseases is a very difficult prospect, as the UK experience with FMD in 2001 showed. However, a concerted effort to develop new vaccines, new pesticides, and resistant varieties of crops could greatly improve the situation.

Insure effective epidemiological investigation to determine origin of outbreaks

Biological attack on the agricultural sector is likely to be covert if one ever happens. Such attacks will be options for perpetrators only to the extent that they maintain plausibility as natural events. Increased epidemiological capacity, especially in strain identification from molecular sequence data, makes it increasinglydifficult to escape detection, and thus would act as a substantial deterrent.

Negotiate an effective BTWC Protocol

A BTWC Protocol that establishes effective measures to deterÊ States from developing or possessing biological weapons would provide a powerful tool in making progress towards the goal of complete biological disarmament. This would reduce the likelihood of BW in regional conflicts, and the chance that state-supported terrorist organizations would ever get bioweapons. Provision for internationally sponsored epidemiological investigation of possible agricultural attacks would deter covert use in the same manner as national epidemiological capacity.

Reduce reliance on monoculture and expand the diversity of genotypes cultured

States that engage in high intensity agriculture of a limited range of varieties could reduce their vulnerability to both deliberate and natural disease outbreaks by increasing the use of intercropping, expanding the diversity of genotypes utilized, reducing the size of plots, and a variety of other agricultural changes designed to reduce susceptibility to disease outbreaks. However, these constitute substantial changes in established practice, and are probably not likely to be instituted without sustained and forceful political leadership.