Since September 11th, 2001, the US has been understandably obsessed with preventing another type of terrorist attack. But what we may have failed to realize is that while the government is shelling out $16 billion a year on anti-terrorism efforts, they’ve allocated a paltry $1 billion to secure our food supply. To put this in some perspective: An estimated 36,000 Americans have died of food-borne pathogens since 2001, compared to 323 deaths as a result of terrorist activities. In 2004, when (then) Secretary of Health and Human Services Tommy Thompson resigned from his position, he expressed concern that the United States wasn’t doing nearly enough to protect our food.
“I, for the life of me, cannot understand why the terrorists have not attacked our food supply, because it is so easy to do,” he said at the time, calling his agency’s inspections of the US food supply “minute.” You’d think that the head of HHS proclaiming the ease with which terrorists could seriously mess with our massively complex food chain would set off some alarm bells, but nothing much changed until recently.
It’s taken the United States government 13 years to acknowledge that our food supply might be more vulnerable than we’d like to admit. We wouldn’t want a nation of overeaters losing their appetites. But on December 24, 2013, for the first time in US history, the FDA proposed an additional rule be added to the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA). It’s called “Focused Mitigation Strategies to Protect Food Against Intentional Adulteration,” which basically admits that our food system is full of vulnerabilities, and would require both domestic and foreign food facilities to have a plan in place to address these significant threats. In human speak, the FDA has finally started paying attention to the cracks in our food system where terrorists might slip in and seriously fuck stuff up for a lot of innocent people.
“I can’t remember a time in my life where an attack on our food system wasn’t on my mind,” Dr. Michael T. Osterholm, the author of Living Terrors and America’s foremost expert on infectious diseases, told me. Dr. Osterholm currently serves as the director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy (CIDRAP) and teaches at the University of Minnesota’s Medical School and its School of Public Health.
Read more: Vice