Tennessee’s own College of Veterinary Medicine has stepped onto the national platform for terror defense. On Oct. 16, U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp, R- Tenn., announced the creation of the Center for Agriculture and Food Security and Preparedness to combat agroterrorism and bioterrorism. The Department of Homeland Security awarded the UTCVM a grant of $2 million in order to establish within the center an extensive, Web-accessible training program for national and industrial use.
The goal of the new center will be to serve as a headquarters for information that will assist the nation in protecting its agriculture and food supply. The government has recognized agriculture and the nation’s food supply as potential targets of terrorism, both on a pragmatic level that the consumption or use of targeted livestock and crops could be directly harmful to individuals, as well as on an economic level. In 2005, agriculture accounted for more than 66 percent of Tennessee’s total receipts with more than $2.5 billion, according to the USDA.
The new center will “better prepare Tennessee and this nation with respect to security and safety,” said Michael Blackwell, UTCVM dean and retired assistant surgeon general and chief of staff of the Office of the Surgeon General. “Our intent is to educate those industries who work with or regulate ... (areas) where we are vulnerable.”
The CAFSP is entirely a creation of the college itself, funded by UTCVM. Sharon Thompson, director of Partnership Programs, applied for the DHS grant awarded to the college. However, the grant funds only a specific training program.
According to Thompson, Dean Blackwell first asked her to design and develop such a center four years ago and has always been interested in advancing UTCVM onto the national and global plane. The CAFSP, as a focal point for agriculture safety initiatives, will provide such a chance for worldwide recognition.
“Having this role for (the) nation’s health is something we at this college are very proud of,” Blackwell said.
Although most would not consider a veterinary college the obvious choice for agricultural defense, the veterinary oath itself requires recipients of a doctorate of veterinary medicine to promote public health. Not only is the CVM capable of evaluating agricultural commodities, it is also capable of evaluating zoonotic threats such as the bird flu or SARS.
In the future, the CAFSP will be the organization in charge of evaluating possible targets and making them less penetrable and more defendable. It will also be an authority on agroterrorism awareness and training. Blackwell and Thompson see the center as an opportunity for increased communication and awareness within Tennessee itself, as well.
The veterinary college is not alone in this undertaking. Along with the College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources, the vet school is working with Virginia Tech, New Mexico State University and UC Davis on other agricultural defense projects.
“This center has come about because the UT College of Veterinary Medicine recognizes its responsibility to promote public health and to be on the team that protects national security. The work that will come out of this center has the potential to affect each and every American, anyone who consumes food,” Blackwell said.