U.K. Agency Warns of Terrorist Threat to Food Supply

The British government is warning food producers and sellers that extremists could seek to cause significant harm by tainting the country’s food chain, the London Telegraph reported on Saturday (see GSN, April 29).

The security advisory by the Center for the Protection of National Infrastructure calls on grocery stores, along with food and drink companies, to increase protective measures at their production and storage sites and to search for weak points in their distribution systems.

“The U.K. suffers from a low level of malicious contamination of food by the bad, the mad and the sad,” said one CPNI official at a food safety meeting. “Now it has to consider the possibility of food supplies being disrupted by politically motivated groups.”

The report outlines several ways in which rogue actors could contaminate the British food supply, including using bacteria or chemicals to taint products that have been prepared for sale or by targeting their raw materials, which are produced in mass quantities and distributed across a wide area.

“The food and drink industry in the U.K. — the food sector of the national infrastructure — could be under threat from ideologically motivated groups,” the report says. “The threat is unlikely to decline in the foreseeable future. This could cause mass casualties, economic disruption and widespread panic.”

The report comes amid an outbreak of E.coli bacteria that has killed 18 people in Germany and seriously sickened more than 1,800 in several European nations. A prominent German physician on Sunday urged a probe into the possibility the outbreak was a planned attack.

“It’s quite possible that there’s a crazy person out there who thinks ‘I’ll kill a few people or give 10,00 people diarrhea.’ It’s a negligent mistake not to investigate in that direction,” Vivantes hospital hygiene chief Klaus-Dieter Zastrow said in Berlin.

Security officials in the United States late last year warned that militants linked to an al-Qaeda branch had studied poisoning buffet bars at restaurants and hotels with lethal toxins such as ricin and cyanide (see GSN, Dec. 21. 2010).

“The U.S. and Australia are much more publicly aware of the threat from terrorism to the food supply compared to the U.K.” Harper Adams University College rural security expert Richard Byrne said. “Groups could go after consumer health in a short-term way by using something like E.coli, or longer term by contaminating with cadmium or radioactive cesium.”

The CPNI report says it is more difficult to ensure that food produced in foreign countries have not been contaminated than those grown in the United Kingdom. Farms, which often use foreign labor, were spotlighted as a particular security concern (Richard Gray, London Telegraph, June 4).

Courtesy of Global Security Newswire