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Homeland Security: Challenges for the Food and Agriculture Sector in Responding to Potential Terrorist Attacks and Natural Disasters

GAO-11-946T Published: Sep 13, 2011. Publicly Released: Sep 13, 2011.
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This testimony examines issues related to food and agriculture emergencies. Agriculture is critical to public health and the nation's economy. It annually produces $300 billion worth of food and other farm products and is estimated to be responsible for 1 out of every 12 U.S. jobs. As a result, any natural or deliberate disruption of the agriculture or food production systems--including natural disasters, disease outbreaks, and food contamination--can present a serious threat to the national economy and human health and can halt or slow trade. The food and agriculture systems are also vulnerable to terrorist attacks, such as the intentional introduction of a foreign animal or plant disease or the intentional contamination of food products. Recognizing the vulnerability of the U.S. food and agriculture systems, the President issued Homeland Security Presidential Directive (HSPD) -9 in January 2004 to establish a national policy to defend these systems against terrorist attacks, major disasters, and other emergencies. HSPD-9 assigns various emergency response planning and recovery responsibilities to federal agencies, including the Departments of Agriculture (USDA), Health and Human Services (HHS), and Homeland Security (DHS), and also the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Separately, DHS's 2008 National Response Framework outlines how the nation will collectively respond to any emergency, regardless of its cause or size. The framework includes 15 emergency support functions (ESF) for the federal response to an emergency or for federal support to states during an emergency. DHS activates individual ESFs when a threat or emergency necessitates a specific type of coordinated federal response. ESF-11 specifically addresses the federal food and agriculture response during emergencies, and USDA is designated as coordinator. This testimony summarizes the findings in our report on response and recovery efforts for food and agriculture emergencies..

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Animal diseasesCentralizationContaminated foodsDisaster planningEmergency preparednessEmergency responseEpidemicsFederal agenciesFood inspectionFood safetyHomeland securityInformation managementInteragency relationsNatural disastersPolicy evaluationStrategic planning