The U.S. is virtually unprotected against a biological attack on its agricultural sector, warned a state government official at a bio-terrorism conference in Las Vegas.

Tom McGinn, assistant state veterinarian, North Carolina Department of Agriculture, showed a computer simulation of foot-and-mouth disease being deliberately released simultaneously across the U.S.

The exercise showed that within two weeks the disease would have spread to many states and caused the destruction of 48.5 million animals.

"Terrorists have the organisms; they have the intention and they have the capability. We need to develop better surveillance, detection and response capabilities," said McGinn. "We’re not prepared right now and the effects of an attack would be catastrophic."

Web Survey

Producers have until year’s end to comment electronically on agricultural biosecurity preparedness.

The Extension Disaster Education Network (EDEN) has extended its online homeland security survey through December. The 20-question survey asks farmers how ready the U.S. is for a terrorist attack and which farm sectors are at greatest risk.

The survey is confidential and can be accessed at http://www.agctr.lsu.edu/eden. EDEN is a collaborative effort of state extension services to develop and release disaster information.

About 250 producers and farmland owners have participated in the survey since it began Sept. 1.

So far, 75% of those taking the survey believe agroterrorism is likely to occur somewhere in the U.S. More than a third believe it’s possible an attack will take place on their farm. Nearly half don’t believe the U.S. is prepared for a terrorist attack.