Congress sent the bill to the White House for the President’s consideration on June 27.
The bill amends the Homeland Security Act of 2002 to direct the Assistant Secretary for Health Affairs for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to carry out a program to coordinate DHS efforts related to defending the food, agriculture and veterinary systems of the United States against terrorism and other high-consequence events that pose a high risk to homeland security.
If signed into law by President Trump, the Act will:
- Provide oversight and management of DHS’s responsibilities pursuant to Homeland Security Presidential Directive 9 – Defense of United States Agriculture and Food;
- Provide oversight and integration of DHS activities related to veterinary public health, food defense and agricultural security;
- Lead DHS policy initiatives related to food, animal and agricultural incidents and to overall domestic preparedness for, and collective response to, agricultural terrorism;
- Coordinate with other DHS components on activities related to food and agriculture security and screening procedures for domestic and imported products; and
- Coordinate with appropriate federal departments and agencies.
As Food Safety News previously reported, the agro-terrorism bill could bring extra security to the food, agriculture and livestock sectors.
According to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO), implementing H.R. 1238 will cost about $500,000 a year with such spending subject to the availability of appropriated funds.
In 2016, the department allocated $475,000 to defend against agro-terrorism. A full-year appropriation for the department has not yet been enacted for 2017.
This is not the first legislative reaction to agro-terrorism concerns. After 9/11, Congress in 2002 required all food production facilities to register with the Food and Drug Administration. In 2010, Congress approved the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) with a rule requiring certain companies to develop food defense plans.
First introduced in 2016 and then again in January of this year by U.S. Rep. Dave Young, R-IA, the agro-terrorism law was advanced after Iowa suffered the largest animal disease outbreak in state history, when the 2015 avian influenza outbreak wiped out millions of layer hens, turkeys and backyard flocks.
Young says response efforts revealed problematic breaks in the federal government’s ability to communicate with stakeholders and react quickly to large-scale animal disease outbreaks. He said the disaster also raised concerns among farmers and producers about whether our nation would be able to capably share information and respond to agro-terrorism threats and attacks, ultimately an attack against our nation’s citizens.
The vote for the Agriculture and Food Act in the Senate was unanimous and there were only a handful against it on the last procedural vote it faced in the House.