Sometimes, unlikely events happen. That fact is clearer now more than anytime I can recall. Six months ago, who could have imagined that millions of hogs would be backed up in the production system due to COVID-19 related supply chain disruptions? Yet it happened, and now we must maneuver the consequences.
This week I had the opportunity to participate in a three-day workshop hosted by the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) and International Criminal Police Organization (INTERPOL) focused on capacity building in the area of agro-crime and agro-terrorism. The workshop was part of a larger three-year initiative entitled “Building Global Resilience Against Agro-Terrorism and Agro-Crime.” This project is a collaboration between Global Affairs Canada, OIE, INTERPOL, and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).
Although both agro-crime and agro-terrorism have broader definitions, the workshop focused on offenses against animals. Workshop participants included about 40 animal health, public health and law enforcement experts from around the world. There is no doubt that livestock, wildlife and companion animals are vulnerable to a variety of biothreats including agro-crime and agro-terrorism.
It may be useful to clarify the distinction between agro-terrorism and agro-crime in this context. Agro-terrorism is the targeting of animals inspired by ideological, religious or political beliefs. An example would be the 2011 arrest and conviction of a South African man for threatening to spread foot and mouth disease (FMD) in the United States and Great Britain unless he was paid $4,000,000. The ideology behind this threat was the belief that both countries had been too passive when white farmers lost their land in Zimbabwe.
Agro-crime, on the other hand, is the targeting of animals that leads to death, illness or mistreatment of those animals, potentially harming the health and livelihood of their owners for financial gain. The smuggling and sale of pork products into the United States from a country experiencing an African Swine Fever outbreak would be an example. The distinction here is that the motivation is monetary gain, not ideology.
That stated aim of the workshop was to “develop a roadmap that outlines and guides collaboration and cooperation between law enforcement and veterinary sectors to tackle agro-crime affecting animal health and welfare.” The workshop did, in fact, work step-by-step towards that stated aim: initially developing a common understanding of the issues, then exploring the value and challenges of developing greater collaboration between law enforcement and veterinary practitioners, and finally conceptualizing the pathway forward.
The question remains: what is the significance of these issues for the swine industry?
First, the risks posed by agro-crime and agro-terrorism are real. Even during the pandemic, we saw examples of these threats to the industry. Secondly, although there are efforts underway to improve international and national collaboration to find solutions to these threats, those efforts will take time. There are, however, actions that you can take now to reduce the risks.
As the situation with the COVID-19 supply chain disruptions improves, many of you are returning your focus to the threat of African Swine Fever. While doing so, I suggest you broaden your concept of biosecurity to include a greater focus on physical security. Here are some steps you can do now—some easily accomplished, others more difficult to implement—to increase your physical security.
- Limit access with fencing and locks
- Post signs to designate restricted areas and farm policies
- Keep all buildings and gates lock when not in use
- Pre-screen new employees
- Improve facility lighting
- Park vehicles away from livestock areas
- Train personnel on your policies and how to report security breaches
These are obviously just a few examples. Every farm will have different vulnerabilities and needs.
Stay vigilant, stay safe, and good luck!