FBI leads group of agriculture agencies to predict and prevent agro-terrorism

By Marshanna Hester

November 15, 2012 Updated Nov 16, 2012 at 11:13 AM CDT

PEORIA, Ill. -- Linden Hill Farms in Peoria spans four Rosenbohm generations.

"I like it better than anything else,” said Farmer Fred Rosenbohm. “This is not really work, it's a lifestyle.

Fred Rosenbohm operates the 900 acreage of land now, growing crops like alfalfa, corn and soybeans, not to mention, milking 120 cows twice a day. That milk is sold to local co-op Prairie Farms Dairy in Peoria.

“We provide a lot of food for a lot of people,” he said.

The Illinois Farm Bureau says each farmer fed 161 people in 2011. However, that food famer’s supply is at risk. The threat is agro-terrorism.

When Rosenbohm hears that word, he said fear goes through his mind, just like anybody else.

“The thing we worry about most is contamination of water, somehow that may affect drinking supplies or production supplies or livestock,” said Tamara Nelsen, the Senior Director of Commodities for the Illinois Farm Bureau.

Protecting the food supply from terrorists stretches from the farm to the fork. That's why the multi-agency Agro-Security Working Group was formed in 2010 to get in front of any threat that could arise.

“As we've seen with much of the information coming out of the Middle East, there are some groups very interested in attacking or affecting us, through economic means,” said Steffan Nass, Weapons of Mass Destruction Coordinator for the FBI.

However, attack can also be home-grown.

Steffan Nass is the FBI's Weapons of Mass Destruction Coordinator for the Springfield Division. He says the agriculture community is not only a target for terrorism, but can also be used as a source for materials.

Agriculture fertilizer was one ingredient ex-Army soldier Timothy McVeigh used in a deadly bomb that killed nearly 200 people on April 19, 1995 in the Oklahoma City bombing.

“We found a great percentage of the agriculture community was not just not aware of the threat of agro-terrorism, but not even aware it was something that would germane to our area,” said Nass.

But the FBI expert said intelligence communication from agency to farmer will minimize the bad guys chances of their hands on chemicals.

Those in the agro-security group have already submitted a number of referrals for suspicious activity. Many of them the authorities can investigate and resolve within one day.

“At this point it's not an imminent threat,” he said. “It's an on-going threat."

History has shown preparedness is critical. The terrorist attacks on 9/11 forced industries to address security measures. Agriculture was not exempt.

Tamara Nelsen with the Illinois Farm Bureau said the industry was identified as a broad front or an area where someone could hit the nation hard. That prompted then-president George Bush to sign the Bioterrorism Act in 2002. It put the Food and Drug Administration in charge of developing and implementing enhanced regulations on food.

Despite the potential threat, Nelsen said consumers should not be worried about the safety of their food supply.

“We’ve been vigilant,” she said. “We've had programs in place where we try to track and stop diseases. It’s something that there are so many people in the industry watching out for you and really that's because our farmers live on the farm with their families."

Rosenbohm agrees.

Multiple security measures are in place to protect his farm and he says safety regulations are stricter than ever. But if that's what it takes to protect you and his family's legacy, Rosenbohm says that's the way it has to be.

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