Study: Food supply seen as vulnerable

by Tiff Clements

Americans want to make sure they’re not the only ones watching what they eat.

The results of a survey released Wednesday show that, on average, Americans say funding to protect against terrorist attacks on our food supply should be increased.

The University-based National Center for Food Protection and Defense, an organization created by the Department of Homeland Security, sponsored the online survey. It polled 4,260 U.S. citizens older than 16.

The poll asked respondents to rank their concerns about terrorism-related vulnerabilities, including airline safety, threats to the power system, the use of biological or chemical agents and threats to trains and subways. Respondents then ranked how much anti-terrorism funding should be devoted to protecting against each threat.

Tom Stinson, a professor in the applied economics department, is co-author of the survey. He said the findings of the survey are somewhat surprising.

“People are much more concerned about terrorism than you might think,” he said. “While people think the most likely place there will be a terrorist attack would be on a train or a subway, they are actually more concerned about an attack on the food system.”

Stinson said respondents would be willing to spend more of their money to protect against terrorist attacks on their food sources than attacks on mass transit systems like trains and subways.

John Shutske, a professor and extension safety and health specialist in the biosystems and agricultural engineering department, works with public and private agencies regarding the issues of food safety and protection. He said concerns about food safety stem from its role in our lives.

“Food is such an intimate part of who we are as people,” Shutske said. “When you think about culture, family and tradition, a lot of times you think about food.”

Food also plays a vital role in our economy and a terrorist attack on that source could cause economic panic, Shutske said.

“If something happened, it could shut down key sectors

of our food system,” he said. “In Minnesota, we’re talking about a multibillion-dollar industry, and some parts of that industry could come to a grinding halt.”

Shutske said officials are working to enhance security in the food production industry from the farm to the table to keep food safe.

Jean Kinsey, co-director of The Food Industry Center and a professor of applied economics, is co-author of the study and said its results will be put in the hands of researchers and legislators.

“The findings will be going to policymakers both in Washington and at the state level,” Kinsey said.