The agricultural chemicals industry faces “a real challenge in making sure our products are as secure as possible,” says Jay Vroom, president of the American Crop Protection Association, Washington.
“We've formed a task force of ACPA board members, representing a number of companies and organizations, to closely examine the issues of food security and potential for misuse of some of our products for terrorism, or using them in ways that could contaminate the fresh food supply,” he told members of the Southern Crop Production Association at their annual meeting at New Orleans. Representatives from the transportation and distribution systems also will provide input, he said.
“Our industry makes a very important contribution to the nation's security with the food and fiber we produce,” he noted, and in light of the events of Sept. 11, ACPA and several other chemical industry associations have been asked to report to the Environmental Protection Agency “what we're doing individually and collectively to make sure our products, our facilities, and our people are secure.”
Subsequent to Vroom's remarks, the Bush administration proposed a multi-billion effort aimed at thwarting terrorism, including a $106 million package to improve food safety against bioterrorism and other potential threats. Because of potential infection of fresh fruits and vegetables and livestock, Congress is looking at proposals to strengthen food inspections, animal health/safety procedures, and to better protect USDA laboratories that work with various pathogens.
He noted that the American Chemistry Council (www.americanchemistry.com) has posted on its Internet site new guidelines for security of chemical products. “It's a very comprehensive document, and we'll be looking closely at it to see what kind of supplemental information, recommendations, and checklists the crop protection industry may need to develop,” Vroom said.
“We're also working closely with the Fertilizer Institute. While it's been general knowledge by the bad guys, domestic and foreign, that ammonium nitrate can make a handy weapon of mass destruction, there is also potential for other nitrogen fertilizer products to be misused — in some cases with even more devastating explosiveness than ammonium nitrate. The institute has a long-standing outreach program to impress on their members the need to be aware of who their customers are and where these materials are going.”
It's ACPA's position, Vroom said, that security is “just one element” of the larger issue of stewardship, “which has been a major focus for our industry.”
Even though the crop protection industry “has a substantial investment in security already,” he said ACPA and its member organizations are looking at a number of what-if scenarios to try and foresee additional potential for terrorism.
“There are some areas that were unthinkable before Sept. 11 that we now need to re-evaluate so we can redouble our efforts to make sure we as secure as we can possibly be in order to protect the food supply chain.” This should include, he said, an intensification of efforts with regard to employees in the sales, transportation, and distribution sectors.
Recounting a conversation with Environmental Protection Agency administrator Christie Whitman, Vroom said “she does not view this crisis as an opportunity to expand the agency's regulatory authority” over the crop protection industry.
“She just wants to be sure that sufficient security is there for our industry and other areas for which the EPA has oversight.”
Whitman has announced that Steve Johnson, administrator for pesticides and toxic substances, will be leading the effort across the federal government to coordinate chemical security issues.
“That's good news for us,” Vroom said. “He is someone who understands our industry's products and won't be prone to overreacting and throwing us a lot of curve balls.”
Industry relations with the EPA with the advent of the Bush administration “have been open and refreshing,” Vroom said. “Steve Johnson and his aides are far more accessible and proactive” than those in the previous administration.
“We had our first industry meeting with Ms. Whitman back in July, with an excellent exchange of views. She clearly recognizes the value of sound science in the regulatory process. We've made good progress in our effort to try and help the EPA to work through issues related to screen, toxicity, and risk assessment. There has been much greater opportunity, in the political climate since Jan. 20, for open and fair discussion of issues and concerns.”