Three Ideas to Beef Up Food Security

RFIDs and other steps to protect the security and safety of food

Implement more RFID tagging of livestock.

Roger Viadero, a former FBI agent and inspector general in the USDA, touts the use of radio frequency identification (RFID) tagging to improve the traceability of animals through the food chain.

Viadero, now managing director for agribusiness at Navigant Consulting, works with RFID systems from Syscan. "We can track a product from the birth pen right through Stop & Shop," he says, referring to a large supermarket chain. So if a porterhouse steak in the meat case is found to be contaminated, it can be traced backward through the food chain, all the way to the animal it came from; bad hamburger might be detected before it reaches the store, preventing the need for an expensive recall.

In May, the government backed the animal-tracking system idea with a draft plan that would identify animals from birth to death, using technologies such as RFID or retinal scanning. But convincing industry to adopt RFID technology now is a tough sell, Viadero says, because of concerns about added costs. For the consumer, he says, RFID may add up to 7 cents to the cost of a pound of meat. "The industry says it's going to put us out of businessthey're afraid the consumer will eat less. I don't know about you, but I'd spend a nickel more for source-verified meat," he says.

Establish a neighborhood-watch program for the sector.

In Ford County, Kan., law enforcement, veterinarians and others have launched a neighborhood watchstyle program to mitigate the threat of agroterrorism. James Lane, the undersheriff for Ford County since 2001 and a former security head at a beef-packing plant, says the program, called Agroguard, encourages cowboys, farmers, feedlot workers and others involved in the food chain to keep their eyes and ears open to suspicious activity and to report it.

So if a strange car pulls off the road near a pasture, a cowboy can dial 1-800-KSCRIME and report the license plate number of the car. "We need to understand this is about risk management," Lane says. "There are applications that make sense and those that don't. For us to tell feed yards that they need to install electronic devices like CCTV or biodetectors doesn't really make sense. We're talking about a very harsh environment, hundreds of acres. It's not like you're trying to secure a building. So you have to understand your best asset is the people," he says.

In Ford Countywhere there are some 1,250 farms, more than 20 feeder facilities, two slaughterhouses and nearly 10 times as many cattle as peoplelocal industry is still hurting from a Japanese ban on American beef exports after a case of bovine spongiform encephalopathy or BSE (also known as mad-cow disease) from an imported cow reached Washington State in 2003. (The cattle industry received more bad news this June when a beef cow born and bred in Texas tested positive for BSE. Taiwan reimposed a ban on U.S. beef imports only three months after lifting an earlier one.)

Lane emphasizes that building partnerships is key to agroterrorism prevention across the Midwest. "Local law enforcement must become partners with industryhistorically, there has never been partnership. Second, law enforcement and animal health and public health officials must sit down and work together," he says.

Lane and Agroguard are ahead of the pack in thinking about mitigating the risk to the food supply, says Nevil Speer, an associate professor of animal science in Western Kentucky University's agriculture department. "Agroguard to me is the very best system we could use to try and prevent [an attack]. We need to take that thing nationwide."

Work with suppliers to improve security controls.

Mark Cheviron, corporate vice president and director of security and services for Archer Daniels Midland (ADM), says one of the most important steps in food chain security is to know who your suppliers are.

ADM, one of the biggest agricultural processors in the world, turns crops into food ingredients, animal feed ingredients and renewable fuels. Cheviron says that when a supplier drives a load of grain to a grain elevator, the vehicle is checked and the driver is given a pass, which he then gives to a person at the dumping site. If the grain is loaded onto a railcar, the car is sealed and the seal is checked when loaded and unloaded. If the seal is broken, the receiver won't accept it, says Cheviron. The same holds true for finished products such as sweetener. If the seal is broken, the customerCoke, for examplewill reject the whole car. Trucks are sealed as well.

At ADM's processing plants, food safety has always been an important issue. "It wasn't 9/11 that sparked that; it was the Tylenol case," he says, referring to the 1982 tampering incident. But the company did undertake a thorough review of its security following 9/11. A 2003 letter provided by Cheviron (headed "To whom it may concern" and signed by ADM President and COO Paul Mulhollem) cites measures such as improved perimeter protection and access controls, and the sealing of empty bulk containers to reduce the possibility of contamination of a container before it's reloaded.

Send comments on this story to Senior Editor Todd Datz via e-mail at tdatz@cxo.com.

Copyright © 2005 IDG Communications, Inc.

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