St. Paul, MN (January 22, 2002)—As experts in plant health science, the members of The American Phytopathological Society (APS) work with farmers and growers around the world to help manage plant disease. In the aftermath of the September 11 attacks and the anthrax exposures that followed, APS members realized the importance of utilizing their expertise to help safeguard the world’s food supply from the possibility of future terrorist attacks. As a result, they formed a special committee to address these issues.
“We’re all taking the threat of bioterrorism much more seriously since the events of September,” says Jim Cook, chair of the APS Bioterrorism Committee. “In many respects, our role as plant health scientists is similar to that of public health professionals who are being trained to recognize diseases in humans that may have a bioterrorism connection. We deal routinely with accidental and natural outbreaks of crop diseases, but now we must expand our thinking and protocols to prevent and recognize deliberate attacks on crops.”
The scientists that make up the committee represent a cross section of experts within the plant health science field. The committee chair, Jim Cook of Washington State University, is a National Academy of Sciences member with expertise in the area of agricultural threats. Larry Madden of Ohio State University, is particularly knowledgeable regarding emerging diseases and bioterrorism. Molly Cline is director of government and industry affairs for animal agriculture and Monsanto protein technologies with the Monsanto Corporation. Julie Beale of the University of Kentucky, Lexington, is a plant disease diagnostician who has provided congressional testimony related to bioterrorism. Andre Levesque, Agricultural Canada, Ottawa, is skilled in the areas of plant pathogens and disease detection. Anne Desjardins, USDA Peoria, is a mycotoxin expert. Bill Brown, Colorado State University, and Norm Schaad from USDA ARS Fort Detrick, Maryland, have previous experience with bioterrorism issues.
“We see our job as one of prevention and detection, with the greater emphasis on prevention,” states Cook. While there is no evidence that food crops have been a target of bioterrorism activity, these scientists think the events of September 11 have taught us to consider any area where we might be vulnerable. And doing their part to make a nation, and the world, less vulnerable to terrorist attacks is a job these scientists say they are more than willing to take on.
In addition to this committee’s efforts, the APS Public Policy Board (PPB) is addressing issues, such as bioterrorism, that impact plant pathology through Federal and State policy. PPB is currently planning a forum for congressional elected and staff personnel as well as federal agency personnel on the impact that bioterrorism can have on the nation’s food security. PPB will work with the Committee on Bioterrorism to help define how APS can best respond to this national threat.
The American Phytopathological Society (APS) is a nonprofit, professional scientific organization dedicated to the study and control of plant disease with 5,000 members worldwide.