Local News

'Silent Farmland' Takes On Threat Of Biological Disease

Posted August 5, 2003

— There were new warnings Tuesday about possible al-Qaida plots to get weapons onto airplanes. Tuesday in Raleigh, a team of experts played out another type of terrorism -- one that could hit one of North Carolina's multibillion-dollar businesses.

It seems the front line for the fight against terrorism could be down on the farm.

Two years ago, there was the fear of foot-and-mouth disease. Last year, there was Newcastle's disease in poultry.

Both of those proved false alarms. But next time, the threat from biological disease might be real.

"Well, I don't particularly worry about it," said Seth Fish, who raises cattle in Wake County. "But I try to keep up with it as much as possible."

So do state and federal governments -- and for good reason.

"The caves of al-Qaida had lots of information about their intentions to destroy our food-producing capabilities," said Dr. Tom McGinn, of the North Carolina Department of Agriculture.

Tuesday in Research Triangle Park, a war game was played out behind closed doors. The threat: a bioterror agent released in North Carolina.

"These sorts of things spread very rapidly," McGinn said, "and we've got to have exercises so we can be prepared to respond and contain these spreads that terrorists could potentially introduce."

The exercise was called

Silent Farmland

and looked at protecting both the food supply and the public from fear of attack.

Tuesday's war game was played out with foot-and-mouth disease. But it could have been any one of hundreds of viruses, small pox or anthrax.

"It is very easy for a bad guy to bring in one of the bad bugs, bad viruses or bad bacteria," McGinn said.

Fish, the cattle farmer, said he is glad North Carolina is getting prepared.

"Well, I think about it, but I'm not scared of it, really," Fish said. "But I should be, I guess."

There is a reason for the focus on keeping North Carolina farms safe. The state sends more than 20,000 animals out of state each day. One infection here could spread across the country in no time.

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