In the wake of 9/11, President George W. Bush revamped the nation’s food defense programs, drawing a government shield around the food supply in fear of a food-based biological terrorist attack. Those programs have grown to an unwieldy $3.4 billion, multi-headed bureaucracy with no measurable effect in making the country safer.
The hysterical paranoia left Washington to double down on surveilling food shipments, testing for chemical, biological, and radiological agents, and monitoring terrorist threats to food.
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and the Department of Agriculture (USDA) have all been allocated billions of dollars to guard against an unlikely threat that food suppliers could probably handle themselves. The programs also predictably took on lives of their own, becoming self-justifying despite the absence of credible threats of terrorist attacks on the food supply.
The DHS recently doled out about $400,000 in grants to California dairy farmers to keep the milk supply safe, complete with new high-tech locks for milk houses. One of those dairy farmers, John Taylor, received $800 for a new lock for his milk house in Marin County and was interviewed by the Associated Press: “We’re so remote out here, security isn’t much of an issue, but we were happy to do an upgrade on the farm.”
Some small farmers claim some of these measures are unreasonable and bad for business. USDA inspectors have pressed slaughterhouses to write “Food Defense Plans.” But Uli Bennewitz, who owns a small farm-brewery-butchery in North Carolina, told the Associated Press he had to hire an additional employee just to deal with the on-site meat inspector.
“When it comes to treating a Tyson chicken plant the same as a one-man brewery butchery, that’s when these laws get completely out of control,” Bennewitz said. “What is a small farm doing writing a Food Defense Plan? That is not going to save the nation from some terrible disease.”
Putting food suppliers through these sorts of frenzied, bureaucratic food-threat measures is another wasteful aspect of the response to 9/11, and is likely to have pushed food prices upwards. Like TSA body scans of grandma, food defense programs indicate misplaced fears of inflated threats and don’t seem to be going anywhere anytime soon.
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