Bioterrorism – a threat to food security

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THE HORIZON of globe is changing from basic needs of living to the specialties of life. The advancement in technology has helped mankind a lot but also has posed severe threats regarding its survival. The standards of living are changing; human beings face new concerns regarding their endurance day-to-day. The fight for the food, shelter and cloth has changed and it and compelled us also to change strategies for defense with special reference to global peace and food security. Bioterrorism can be a challenging task with respect to the food items (with are consumed daily), it could cause a number of victims ahead.

According to Center of Disease Control (CDC), Bioterrorism is the intentional or deliberate dissemination of biologic agents (bacteria, viruses, or toxins) that may be in a naturally-occurring or in a human-modified form. Biological agents are utilized for bioterrorism; these agents can spread through the air, through water, or in food.

Terrorists may use biological agents because they are exceedingly difficult to detect and control. Here are some examples of bioterrorism like the Botulism, smallpox virus, anthrax and Ebola virus hemorrhagic fever. Categorically bioterrorism agents can be divided into three categories depending upon the severity and acuteness of its assaults. “A” category includes agents which readily spread, transmit and cause high number of casualties. The lethal action of these agents is so wide that it may cause panic situation. Category “B” is moderately dangerous but easy to prevent its spread. The lowest kind of these agents may pose a challenging threat to the peoples in future, so these are considered at third priority list. Different sectors of life are affected with these attacks but the most important segment is the Agriculture sector.

Agriculture sector is more prone for assault amongst several targets of bioterrorism. Genetic uniformity of crops, easy spreading, indirect mode of attack and artificial pest attack is masked by the up comings of natural processings, are main reasons for attack in agriculture sector.

Historical background of bioterrorism was started way back in 18th century but the most prominent cases of attack were during First World War when anthrax was utilized as agent and proved effective. In 1915, Germany started biological war against United States, Russia and France and used glanders culture to infect horses and mules. An attempt was made to pollute water with typhoid and other bacteria in 1972 in Chicago. In 1984, different restaurants where salad bars were infected with Salmonella typhimurium. In June 1993, the religious group Aum Shinrikyo released anthrax in Tokyo and in 2001 USA was attacked with anthrax. Similar other cases were reported during this era, results show that the most effected sector is the Agriculture. Food is the life line item to be affected by bioterrorists due to its high susceptibility.

Food terrorism includes any act of deliberate contamination of food with agents like chemical, biological, or radio-nuclear agents to get socio-political benefits or to dislodge political stability. Food is vulnerable to these agents due to their open food chain; contamination in any single point can result in a huge tragedy.

Food is used as a vector for carriage of biological pathogens/toxins and thousands of victims would result within few hours. It is historically proved that the food stuff was being deliberately contaminated with chemical, biological and toxicological agents, just because to get political purposes or create panic amongst civilians.

Food is being processed from farm to folk, so basically it is open chained line which is time to time used as carrier. In 1984, United States food point was attacked with Salmonella typhimurium causing 751 cases of Salmonellosis. It was none other than to disrupt local elections for political purposes. The most lethal outbreaks of Salmonella typhimurium was being observed due to deliberate contamination of pasteurized milk, in 1985 in U.S.A resulting 175,000 effected personnels. In Shanghai, China, 295,000 effected persons were reported due to consumption of viral contaminated clams in 1991. This outbreak was considered the largest food borne illness in history. In another case in 1994, liquid pasteurized ice cream was attacked by S. enteritidis infection caused illness in 224,000 people in the U.S.A. Escherichia coli O157:H7 infection was observed in Japan in 1996, where about 7,800 children became ill and caused some casualties also just because of contaminated radish.

According to WHO in 1983, more than 800 people died and 20,000 admitted to hospitals due to the presence of a chemical compound in cooking oil in Spain. Water melon having aldicarb resulted in more than 1,000 in 1985. South Asian region are one of the most effected parts of the world due to lack of proper system and infrastructure.

Agriculture sector is the backbone of the economy of Pakistan. There are different sub sectors in agriculture which contribute to the pillage of economy. Livestock sector is the main contributor which includes milk production that adds 11.7 % to the GDP. Dairy sector provides employment to 35-40 million people are directly or indirectly related with the sector. More than 6 billion liters of unprocessed milk is used for drinking purpose. So as per the broadness of this sector any type of contamination in any part will result in huge impact on the thousands of people. Another main contributor is the fish and poultry sector which provides more than 750 million tons of meat. It is important for the government to look into their bio risk management and bio risk preparedness.

Pakistan had been a major victim of bioterrorism; faced different issues like in 2002, about 22,000 merino sheep were imported from Australia for Bahrain, but they refused to unload and these sheep were unloaded in Karachi. These sheep were infected with scabby mouth disease and were killed and buried. Dengue profile case is also attached with bioterrorism, which first appeared in nineties and then reappeared in 2002. Water borne illness is a common problem for the disease outbreaks in Pakistan. Different crop failures especially of cotton due to the biological attacks of white fly and American worms, imported through seed. In short the agriculture sector is the wide victim of biological and genetic threats. So this is the need of hour to establish a setup to prevent the civilians from socio-economic loss.

There are some recommendations regarding the prevention and control of the bioterrorism especially food bioterrorism that include adaptation of HACCP plan to avoid any hazard in any biological system, establishment of food safety and control authority that could analyze the safety situation in country, the checking of food items for food security and hygienic condition before shipment, and increasing public awareness about safety precautions to prevent any possible disaster.


Published in: Volume 06 Issue 32

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