To make the Islamic world hate America, the Taliban may poison food packages the U.S. air-drops to Afghan children. So the Pentagon warned last week. After anthrax, food terror may be the next weapon unleashed. Congress is worried.
But if food terror comes to America, it will not be the first such attack. In 1980, the Rajneesh religious cult used salmonella bacteria to poison 10 salad bars in Oregon and sicken 750 people. Chemical and biological agents have also been used to poison food and murder enemies abroad. In 1992, Kurdish rebels tried to poison the water supply of a Turkish military base with potassium cyanide. In 1995, in Tajikistan, nine Russian soldiers died from a New Year's bottle of champagne laced with cyanide by Tajik enemies.
The most lethal attack was the poisoning of thousands of SS soldiers in a U.S. POW camp outside Nuremburg in 1946. Nakam, a vengeance group, infiltrated the bakery that supplied bread to the camp and spread an arsenic-based poison on the loaves. Hundreds died, and thousands were made ill.
In 1978, terrorists attempted to cripple Israel's economy with the mercury-sabotage of her citrus fruit exports. A dozen children in West Germany and Holland were hospitalized. The alleged lacing of Chilean grapes with cyanide in 1989 caused a recall of all Chilean fruit in the United States.
Because of the NAFTA-GATT trade treaties, America's food supply is at greater risk than ever. A third of our fresh fruit and 12 percent of our vegetables are now imported, and fruits and vegetables are often eaten raw. Yet, less than 2 percent of all foreign food is inspected by the Food and Drug Administration.
Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman is most concerned about the possible contamination of a feed lot with the virus that causes foot-and-mouth disease. Though harmless to humans, the disease forced the slaughter of 4 million animals in Britain. Its discovery in American cattle could cause a food panic and an agricultural crisis.
In 1998, the General Accounting Office called U.S. efforts to ensure the safety of imported food "inconsistent and unreliable." Less than 2 percent was being inspected, though 400 Americans had been sickened by Mexican cantaloupes in 1991, 200 by Alfalfa sprouts from Holland in 1995 and 1,000 by Guatemalan raspberries in 1997. An outbreak of Hepatitis A in Michigan, traced to frozen strawberries from Mexico, sickened 151 children in 1997.
America's defenses against contaminated imported food are weak. Only 74 inspectors are responsible for checking out 2.4 billion pounds of imported meat and poultry.
And even the U.S. water supply is not absolutely secure. In 1993, 400,000 Milwaukeeans were made ill, 4,000 hospitalized and 54 died from the cryptospiridium that inspectors found in a water treatment plant.
With the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, and the anthrax scare, confidence in air travel and the U.S. mail has been damaged. Confidence in our food supply could be next.
In South Dakota, farmers, ranchers and cattlemen have formed a coalition called Safe American Food for Everyone (S.A.F.E.). It is going national. Among its goals: closing America's borders to risky and unsafe animal, food, and feed products.
Yet, congressional Republicans seem to be still living in a pre-Sept. 11 world. Like a child and its security blanket, the party clings to its ideology that open borders, free trade, endless immigration and unrestricted travel among nations is a vision we may yet entertain. They seem unaware that a terrorist war is being waged against us by cells in 60 countries, which exploit our undefended and porous borders to target us for mass murder.
One old debating opponent from NAFTA days, Rep. Robert Matsui, now concedes we are in a new era: "Pat Buchanan was premature in saying it, but he was right about the fact that American sovereignty is affected by trade agreements." Not only sovereignty, Matsui adds, but food safety. So, too, is the national security.
As he departs for the World Trade Organization meeting in Qatar, President Bush has asked Congress for 'fast track' authority. What fast track means is: Congress surrenders, in advance, any and all rights to amend any trade treaty Bush brings home.
But with America's sovereignty and security at stake in trade treaties, Congress cannot forfeit its right to review them. For Congress to surrender that right is to renounce its role in the war on terror. If Congress does that, what do we need a Congress for?