What goals might an attack on the agricultural sector serve?
Attack the food supply of an enemy belligerent
This is the classical rationale for the inclusion of anti-plant programs in national biological weapons programs. Every major state BW program we know of has included an anti-agricultural component, from the WWI German use of anthrax and glanders against animals to the Iraqi program on wheat cover smut. For most agents, effective use would require large stockpiles and extensive delivery efforts; however, there is potential for delivery by secret agent to initiate point-source epidemics of highly contagious agents.
The relevance of this to terrorist use is slight; however, BW proliferator states are likely to include anti-animal and anti-plant agents in their developing arsenal, and if they also support terrorist groups, there is a slim chance that such groups might be allowed access to anti-agricultural agents for the purpose of bioterrorism.
Destabilize a government by initiating food shortages or unemployment
Disruption of the agricultural sector can cause profound dislocation of societies. Direct losses of plants or animals could cause food shortages, rises in food prices, and unemployment. All of these could, if severe, have serious destabilizing effects on social and political structures. Many developed countries are quite vulnerable to disruption of the agricultural sector, although their social and political institutions are fairly robust and the resulting discontent is probably unlikely to cause institutional collapse. Nevertheless, the potential for immense economic damage is high in a well-planned attack, and the consequences for the food supply, export trade, and financial markets could be very serious. Many developing countries are potentially quite vulnerable to such destabilization, particularly if they depend heavily on a single food crop or animal.
Alter supply and demand patterns for a commodity
A widespread-epidemic, or any outbreak that triggered the imposition or relaxation of trade restrictions, could result in significant changes of supply of the affected plant or animal materials on domestic and international markets. This in turn would open up or close markets for others (a possible motivating factor).Ê Biological attack could also be used to manipulate futures, and for other manipulations of the financial markets.
Control an undesirable plant or animal (biocontrol)
The use of legitimate, peaceful biocontrol is expanding steadily, and provides an unfortunate body of knowledge and range of ready-made delivery technologies for the interested agricultural bioterrorist or biowarfare program.
There have been two recent programs to develop pathogens of drug crops as biocontrol agents. These have been conducted under UNDCP auspices, funded and performed by the US (fungal pathogens of coca), and funded by the US and UK and performed by Uzbekistan (fungal pathogens of poppy). Both of these programs involve the development of biological agents and delivery devices, and both are presumably intended for use principally or entirely inother countries. However, none of the potential target states has agreed to allow the use of these agents for biocontrol, and several have now stated explicitly that they will not allow it. As a result of this refusal, UNDCP has now withdrawn its sponsorship of the anti-coca project. Although there is no evidence that the agents are being developed for hostile use, the absence of target country approval makes it equally difficult to demonstrate that they are being developed for peaceful purposes. This ambiguity raises legitimate concerns about compliance with Article I of the BTWC. Furthermore, once effective agents have been developed, the intense concern over the drug trade in drug-consuming states may lead to pressure to use them covertly, regardless of target country approval.
Terrorists and individuals might also be interested in biocontrol agents. The deliberate and illegal 1997 importation of Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease Virus (RHDV) into New Zealand constitutes a past instance. And biological attack on genetically engineered plants might be considered by the more extreme activist groups opposed to such technology, a use that could in their view be a form of biocontol.