Biometrics, Food Security, and the Threat of Agro-terrorism

“Whose Minding The Store?": Securing The World’s Food Supply:

Global trade has been impacted by the 2001 economic slump reducing the volume, and subsequent value, of goods shipped worldwide. While increased post Sept.-11 scrutinization of cargo has become commonplace, particularly in the industrialized nations, the impact has been softened by this overall reduction in worldwide trade.

As the world economy recovers and trade volumes increase, the effects of increased security will become more significant, especially for agricultural products which represent more than 40 percent of the world’s trade in primary products. The majority of food trade is within and between major industrialized nations where security continues to be most intense. Eleven of the top agricultural exporters and ten of the top importers are industrialized nations. Western Europe, in particular, accounts for the largest percentage - 41 percent - of the world’s foods exports with more than 70 percent of this amount traded intra-regionally. These countries are the most likely to benefit from increased security measures while suffering the greatest effects of delays in agricultural cargo processing, which is especially susceptible to significant process delays.

Industry Vulnerabilities
The agricultural industry consists of both consolidated and highly fragmented sectors. Food safety is an issue from farm-to-table across the entire food supply chain. However, vulnerabilities to agro-terrorism are the greatest in locations where food storage or processing is centralized and therefore more susceptible to, i.e. a better target for, tampering or contamination.

For example, fresh produce is low risk because this sector is highly fragmented among local and regional growers. Meat packing, on the other hand, which tends to be dominated by large companies (4 in the U.S.), is highly vulnerable to contamination. This is true on the distribution side as well where transportation from centralized facilities provides high-risk contamination opportunities, but tampering at food production centers is a lower risk because there are thousands of widely dispersed facilities.

Economic Implications
There is significant controversy over the likelihood of food-based terrorism and the subsequent impact to public safety. However, even if health ramifications are minimal due to estblished safety precautions, economic impacts could be devastating. Agro-terrorism is not about killing animals or destroying crops, it is about crippling economies. Consider the 2001 outbreak of Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD) in the UK where costs to UK farming exceeded £2.4bn including 4 million slaughtered animals. The cost to the tourism industry, however, similarly devastating estimated at between £2bn and £3bn. The economic impact of a similar outbreak of FMD in the U.S. could reach US $27 billion in trade losses alone, to say nothing of the cost of culling herds, quarantines, increased food prices, lost wages and jobs and administrative oversight.

Government Intervention
The United States is addressing food security as part of a comprehensive approach to protecting critical infrastructure. In the post Sept 11. anti-terrorist legislative flurry, executive orders, bills and federal guidelines have been introduced that pertain specifically to the protection of the U.S. food supply. While these directives, bills and guidelines do not explicitly require technology solutions, each provides opportunities for the deployment of biometrics-based security systems.

Proactive Industry Measures
Food industry associations, like Food Distributors International (FDI), are actively encouraging industry to initiate new security measures Proponents argue they cannot wait for governments to act to prevent potential disaster. They also fear more stringent regulation and endorse a move to pre-empt government intervention by demonstrating the industry’s ability to address these security threats on its own.

Biometrics Opportunities
Public safety and economic threats will drive this vertical industry to seek improved security solutions. However, as with all mainstream markets, process improvement and operational efficiency are the keys to adoption. Existing inefficiencies in agricultural production and distribution offer ample opportunity to leverage the benefits of biometrically enabled systems, particularly as they relate to transportation. In fact, according to Accenture, inefficient transportation and associated excessive inventory represents a $30 billion savings opportunity in this market.

Targeting the food industry segment of the overall transportation sector presents a strategic opportunity for biometrics solution providers. Leveraging the proven effectiveness of biometrics within the generalized transportation sector to address agricultural specific security and process improvement issues is an opportunity “ripe for the picking”.

C. Maxine Most, May 2002