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Bioterrorism, Disasters, Emergency Awareness

UT Veterinarian To Coordinate Animal Disaster Emergencies

A professor from the University of Tennessee College of Veterinary Medicine has come out of retirement to serve in the state's front line guard against animal disease disasters, including agroterrorism. Dr. Bob Linnabary will serve as the state's animal emergency coordinator on a part-time, grant-funded position with the Tennessee Department of Agriculture. Linnabary will work with state and federal animal health and emergency officials to build and enhance safety networks designed to thwart or minimize threats to state and regional animal agriculture. Cooperating agencies include the Tennessee Department of Agriculture, the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency, and USDA.

The interagency initiative is laying plans for animal-care or disposal activities in the event of natural, manmade or disease disasters. Concerns about potential animal health emergencies include agroterrorism; earthquakes that involve the New Madrid fault, which underlies much of the western part of the state; and damage to the nuclear facilities in East Tennessee. The state's six major interstate highways and the world's busiest air cargo distribution center in Memphis are causing officials to consider what quarantine measures might be necessary.

While bioterrorism generally refers to the use of biological agents such as viruses or biological toxins against a human population, agroterrorism refers to the use of such agents to disrupt or destroy food and fiber supplies. Industry specialists have long been concerned about the possibility of accidental contamination, but the recent terrorist attacks in New York and Washington have heightened awareness regarding agriculture's vulnerability to deliberate attacks. "Agriculture is an attractive target for terrorists," said Linnabary. "The animals and crops in the United States are vulnerable since neither have been exposed to nor bred for resistance to organisms foreign to our crops or animals."

Linnabary has more than 20 years of experience in emergency management, including teaching classes on weapons of mass destruction and bioterrorism. Most recently, Linnabary served on a USDA task force to England, providing veterinary assistance during the recent foot-and-mouth disease outbreak. Agroterrorists may not cause human casualties, but the damage can still be devastating. Linnabary said, "While not an act of terrorism, England's foot and mouth disease outbreak is estimated to have cost nearly $15 billion in the loss of tourism alone. Add to this the loss of markets exports, compensations to farmers, lack of consumer confidence in the health of their food, and a whole industry has been damaged." "It is no longer appropriate or safe to take a cavalier attitude and say it can't happen here." Linnabary said. He warns that there are many groups, foreign and domestic, who would like to cripple our agricultural supplies and economy.

Linnabary first plans to heighten the awareness regarding what diseases producers should be guarding against. "Our plan is to make certain that plant and animal producers know what diseases might infect their commodities and to teach them to recognize the signs of these diseases," he said. "Next we should educate and train "first responders." Veterinarians, plant pathologists, Extension agents, and technicians who are most likely to see a disease in its earliest stages must be knowledgeable." The next step is to ensure that laboratories are equipped to analyze samples to determine if there is a problem. Linnabary says that many precautions are already in place.

Sandra Harbison
Media Relations
UT College of Veterinary Medicine

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