products. Sudan I has been shown to cause cancer in laboratory animals.
These findings could be significant for human health, but further research is
neededâ€™ (Canadian Food Inspection Agency, February 2005).
Chapter 17 â€“ Health and safety of stakeholders and customers 425
The risk is still prevalent as the following types of dyes have been found in food
since the original scare in many more products from many different countries
than originally thought:
Sudan I, II, III and IV, Sudan orange G, Sudan red 7B, Sudan red B, Sudan red
G, Sudan black, para red, rhodamine B, butter yellow, orange II, toluidene red.
In response to this issue the EU has helped implement control mechanisms in
many exporting countries.
Bioterrorism â€“ a real threat to food supplies and public
health by Vijay Sardana
In one attack, a radical group released Mediterranean fruit flies in California. The
fly attacks more than 250 varieties of fruits, nuts and vegetables. A similar attack
with a corn or soybean pest could devastate South Dakotaâ€™s agriculture industry.
According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a
bioterrorism attack is the deliberate release of viruses, bacteria, or other germs
(agents) used to cause illness or death in people, animals, or plants. These
agents are typically found in nature, but it is possible that they could be
changed to increase their ability to cause disease, make them resistant to cur-
rent medicines, or to increase their ability to be spread into the environment.
Biological agents can be spread through the air, through water, or in food.
Terrorists may use biological agents because they can be extremely difficult to
detect and do not cause illness for several hours to several days. Some bioter-
rorism agents, like the smallpox virus, can be spread from person to person and
some, like anthrax, cannot.
Are we taking bioterrorism threat lightly?
There are interesting developments in the trade negotiations in various parts of
the world. On one side we are negotiating to promote a free trade regime to pro-
mote trade for prosperity around the world and on the other side we are not
willing to discuss problems of productivity, disease outbreaks and issues of
concerns to public safety with the same enthusiasm. Every argument in world
trade is based on long-term benefit of trade to the stakeholders in future but
there is no solution to how to handle immediate food safety concerns and bio-
security issues and their devastating implications on peopleâ€™s lives. In the
name of capacity building only lectures are offered, very rarely tangible goods
like technologies, systems, equipments are distributed around the world to stop
the flow of unsafe foods.
Trade interests and threatening food supplies security
Let me give some examples. In the last few years, the suicides by thousands of
farmers (regarding the consumption of pesticides) have gone up in various parts
Part C â€“ Overview of the Social Aspects of Business Risks
of India due to financial distress. These were headlines a few months ago but
now it has become a routine matter for administration and for the media as well.
The lives of farmers and their family members and the act of committing suicide
is of no news value anymore, either for media or for policymakers. It is described
as a problem of administration. Many NGOs are blaming this on badly devel-
oped genetically modified seeds, wrong chemical formulations to control dis-
ease outbreaks, etc. If this is the state of affairs in a so-called protected economy,
how is the free trade environment going to bring relief to these farmers, where
survival of the fittest is the rule, similar to the law of the jungle? Who is going to
protect the livelihoods of the vulnerable people? Suppose somebody deliber-
ately supplies the wrong seeds and the wrong crop protection chemicals?
Authorities will take it as a routine case of adulteration or spurious seeds, and
terrorists will deliberately destroy the food security of the nations. There is no
solution, only assumptions, hope and hypothesis are provided. In this free mar-
ket scenario, and there is a demand to limit the role of government interventions
in trade, is it difficult to introduce genetically modified plants or any biological
agent in the name of biopesticide or biofertiliser by a well-planned act of bioter-
rorism? Who is controlling the quality and product integrity in the agriculture
input sectors. The spread of unwanted weeds and new infections from imported
fresh fruits and vegetables is now a common issue in food systems.
Biosecurity in food production is not an agenda for
The damage to crops due to disease is considered as a normal activity in agri-
culture. The cause and frequency are generally not evaluated by anyone in the
system and there is no concern even if there is a sudden disease outbreak in the
agriculture production system, unless it has trade implications like bird flu. No
one is willing to discuss the disease outbreak in any crop which is not of trade
significance. It means quality in trade is more important than the quality of
food for daily requirements for our own citizens. That is why there are exten-
sive plans to control quality and safety of food produced for exports but the
same enthusiasm is not visible for domestic supplies.
What is more worrying is that the policymakers, those who are not aware
of the biosecurity risks and implications, are deciding the fate and future of
biosecurity systems. The budget allocation for the biosecurity is considered a
wasteful expenditure, that is the quarantine stations and quality control labora-
tories are poorly managed, understaffed and rarely upgraded to meet the emerg-
Short-sighted trade diplomacy will spread the
The recent outbreaks of bird flu and mad cow disease have clearly indicated
that hazards donâ€™t respect borders. There is a global campaign to protect countries
Chapter 17 â€“ Health and safety of stakeholders and customers 427
from these outbreaks. Interestingly, many developed countries are developing
series of tests and procedures to control the quality of food entering into their
territories from other countries, but when it comes to trade they force other gov-
ernments to reduce the quality and food safety standards so that they can sup-
ply inferior products to other markets. All sorts of diplomatic, trade and
political tools and techniques are used to gain market access by diluting the
food safety systems developed by nations.
Consumers Ignorance is the Incentive for bioterrorism acts
On the other hand, very often consumers complain about feeling unwell after
consumption of certain types of foods from certain locations, but they take this
lightly and either go for home remedies, or OTC (over-the-counter) drugs to sup-
press the symptoms. There is hardly any attempt by the consumers and medical
administration to conduct systematic investigations and coordinate the details
with other agencies to develop a pattern.
Based on above examples, sometimes it raises doubts as to whether we are
really serious about the welfare of people by ensuring safe food.
Incentives for the promoters of bioterrorism
In last few years, weâ€™ve had serious outbreaks of computer viruses worldwide.
Billions of dollars and a huge quantity of very vital data and analyses were
wiped out because of these virus attacks. Who were the creators of these com-
puter viruses and who benefited from these attacks? One IT professional com-
mented that today computer network security is now a well-developed
industry and no one can rule out the possibility that the solution providers may
have encouraged the problem creators. Do you really need government permis-
sion or a licence to produce a computer virus? In fact it costs nothing more than
a PC, which will not cost more than US$500.
A few weeks back in one seminar where issues related to bird flu were dis-
cussed, suddenly someone asked who will benefit the most from the bird flu
scare; the answer was the company that makes the vaccine. Someone else com-
mented, let us have a look at who the board of directors of this company are,
other biotechnology-related activities of the company and let us also monitor
the companyâ€™s share price.
Bioterrorism is a good business model
In fact, food safety and bioterrorism risks are now part of an â€˜investorâ€™s ideaâ€™ of
how to make good money with least investment. It means that food safety and
bioterrorism can be profitable ventures, but where is the market. It also means
someone will work hard to create a market. Should we expect some bioterror-
ism attack in the near future?
Part C â€“ Overview of the Social Aspects of Business Risks
Historically, there have been at least five acts of agroterrorism in the United
States and 17 worldwide. In one attack, a radical group released Mediterranean
fruit flies in California. The Medfly attacks more than 250 varieties of fruits,
nuts and vegetables. A similar attack with a corn or soybean pest could devas-
tate South Dakotaâ€™s agriculture industry.
Agroterrorism the immediate bioterrorism threat
Let us take a case of agroterrorism; it is one of the dimensions of bioterrorism.
Agroterrorism is â€˜the malicious use of plant or animal pathogens to cause dev-
astating disease in the agricultural sector. It may also take the form of hoaxes
and threats intended to create public fear of such events.â€™
From a BBC article on the subject: when Tommy Thompson stood down as
US Health Secretary in 2004, he delivered a stark warning. â€˜I, for the life of me,
cannot understand why the terrorists have not attacked our food supply, because
it is so easy to doâ€™, he said.
In the same article, Larry Wein from Stanford University describes the sce-
nario of poisoning a milk tanker with 10 grams of botulinum toxin, concluding:
â€˜If we didnâ€™t realise what was happening, half a million people would drink
this milk â€¦ most of these would be poisoned, roughly half of them would die.â€™
A terrorist attack on the food chain on that scale has never happened. The
purported ease with which such an attack could be executed is controversial.
The experience in India also indicates that unchecked imports of wheat
during the food crisis of 1970 also introduced many weeds which were not
present in India. This has impacted not only the growth rate of agriculture but
also the cost of production has gone up.
What is more tragic is that when the India government issued tenders to
import wheat to meet the shortfall, all the supplying countries, including
developed countries, started lobbying the India government to reduce the quar-
antine standards so that they can participate in tenders.
Lessons from modern bioterrorist incidents
According to the information available from various sources, in 1984 followers
of the Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh attempted to control a local election by infect-
ing salad bars in 10 restaurants with Salmonella typhimurium in the city of The
Dalles, Oregon. The attack caused about 751 people to fall ill (no fatalities).
This incident was the first known bioterrorist attack in the United States in the
The 2001 anthrax attack was instrumental in focusing on a broad-based
bioterrorism threat. In September and October of 2001, several cases of anthrax
broke out in the United States, caused deliberately. This was a well-publicised
act of bioterrorism. It motivated efforts to define the scope of biodefence and
biosecurity, where more limited definitions of biosafety had focused on unin-
tentional or accidental impacts of agricultural and medical technologies.
Chapter 17 â€“ Health and safety of stakeholders and customers 429
Ricin attack incidents
There is the possibility of using naturally produced toxins to damage human,
plant or animal life, like incidents that occurred in 2003. Use of castor seed
extracts for poisoning is well documented by various agencies in various parts
of the world.
Limitations of bioterrorism
Bioterrorism is inherently limited as a warfare tactic because of the uncontrol-
lable nature of the agent involved. A biological weapon is useful to a terrorist
group mainly as a method of creating mass panic and disruption to a society.
How to prevent the act of bioterrorism?
There is no option but to follow precautions. Precautions can be introduced
through awareness, education and regulatory changes. Unfortunately as a soci-
ety, we are not aware of the implications of innovations in this serious matter.
After long debate, we have started educating people about AIDS and how to
stop its spread. On similar lines, we must educate people about the emerging
threat of bioterrorism. Public awareness and education are the key to prevent-
ing biosecurity disasters.
On the other hand, the existing agriculture regulations and food regulations
need to be revisited. Uncontrolled genetic engineering can be as disastrous as
uncontrolled nuclear technology. The only difference will be the seen at which
we can notice the disaster and its implications. We have seen the implication of
nuclear disaster in Second World War that is why we are concerned. We have
seen the Sept. 11 accident due to act of terrorism, which is why there is global
movement against terrorism. We have seen natural disasters and disasters due to
industrial accidents like Bhopal gas leak, etc., which is why there is concern
about them. But we have not experienced the disaster due to bioterrorism that is
why we are taking it lightly, are we waiting for disaster to happen.
Options before us
Let us learn from past mistakes and focus our energy in prevention, because in
the case of bioterrorism it will be very difficult to control the disaster because
there may be self-generating and multiplying agents like insects, pathogens,
Develop a forewarning and countering system
Planning may involve the development of biological identification systems.
Most biological defence strategies have been geared to protecting soldiers
on the battlefield rather than ordinary people in cities. During Iraq it was quite
Part C â€“ Overview of the Social Aspects of Business Risks
visible, the way the US army was planning to counter biological warfare. The
tragedy is that financial cutbacks by policymakers have limited the ability of
the institutions to develop the tracking systems for disease outbreaks. Finance
ministers may be thinking that outbreaks will generate more tax revenues from
the sale of medicines, equipment and related services so why spend on preven-
tion. Some outbreaks, such as food poisoning due to E. coli or Salmonella,
could be of either natural or deliberate origin. Generally, governments will say
it was natural to prevent embarrassment.
In Europe, disease surveillance is being organised on a continent-wide scale
and is needed to track a biological emergency. The system not only monitors
infected persons, but attempts to discern the origin of the outbreak. Precautionary
principle is one such approach towards GMOs and food safety issues.
Researchers are developing devices to detect the existence of a biological
Tiny electronic chips that would contain living nerve cells to warn of the
presence of bacterial toxins (identification of a broad range of toxins);
Fibre-optic tubes lined with antibodies coupled to light-emitting molecules