Taking Steps to Protect U.S. Agriculture and Food Supply
The safety of the U.S.’s critical agriculture and food safety infrastructure may very well reside at the University of Tennessee College of Veterinary Medicine.
The College is home to the Center for Agriculture and Food Security and Preparedness. Founded in 2006, the Center combines the expertise of UT faculty with other institutions across the country to develop and deliver state- and community-level training and conduct research related to agroterrorism, biosecurity, foreign animal diseases and related topics.
The Center provides training to the agriculture and food industry; federal, state, county and local officials; extension and crop specialists; agricultural crime units; and others involved with food and agriculture security planning. Since its inception, the Center has trained more than 3,000 individuals.
Drawing upon a rare combination of expertise in both food safety and veterinary medicine, Dr. Sharon Thompson has grown the Center from concept to a multimillion-dollar federally funded organization that involves 30 instructors and a number of federal and state agencies. Thompson came to UT after 12 years in federal government including service as Department of Health and Human Services liaison to the Joint Institute for Food Safety Research and associate director for veterinary, medical and international affairs with the Center for Veterinary Medicine, U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
The Center’s associate director, Dr. Ray Burden, is UT Extension agent and director for Hamilton County, Tenn. Burden serves as a certified instructor and expert on teaching methods as well as emergency response issues.
Courses taught include:
- Management 332: Agriculture and Food Vulnerability Assessment Training
- Management 337: Food Vulnerability Assessment Training (a subset of the above)
- Agriculture Emergency Responder Training
- Foreign Animal and Emerging Diseases (in collaboration with Plum Island Animal Disease Center)
Courses under development:
- Utilization of National Credentialing Standards for Animal Emergency Responders (two courses, one web-based and one instructor-led)
- Effective Sharing of Information and Intelligence Related to the Importation and Transportation of Food (three courses, web-based, instructor-led and video-based training)
Each course is rigorously developed and evaluated by subject matter specialists and Homeland Security officials. Courses are either led by teams of certified instructors or are web-based. Thanks to grant funding, the only cost to participate is the rental charge, if any, for meeting space.
“Our learning is a little different than at the college level,” Thompson says. “We’re teaching adults, and we strive to be interactive and use scenarios that they can work through that relate strongly to potential threats and hazards in their community. These include wildfires, earthquakes, floods as well as animal disease outbreaks.
“When participants leave the course, we want them to be able to immediately apply what they’ve learned to their work, and our evaluations tell us that they are being able to do that.”
What are the threats that Thompson sees for the U.S.’s infrastructure?
“One area that is a real vulnerability is transportation, specifically the importation of food and how food moves through our nation. The biggest concern is intentional contamination, but there are other issues, too, such as the known problem of transport of drugs from Mexico that are hidden in food shipments. So we take an all-hazards approach with our teaching and place a huge emphasis on information sharing among agencies.
“On the animal side, potential problems are more from the perspective of introduction of animal diseases. Our credentialing program centers on how to respond to disease outbreaks and work effectively to contain them.”
To learn more about the Center for Agriculture and Food Security and Preparedness, visit the Center’s website at www.vet.utk.edu/cafsp/ or call 865-974-0345. –Margot Emery