By Connor Lynch
OTTAWA — The 2013 porcine epidemic diarrhea virus (PEDV) outbreak in the United States might have been more than an unfortunate accident. It might have been agricultural terrorism, according to the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).
FBI special agent and veterinarian Stephen Goldsmith told attendees at the World Organization for Animal Health’s conference on biological threats in Ottawa Oct. 31 that it’s hard to explain otherwise how the virus ended up in the U.S.
“It was not a natural incursion. How did a very specific virus with very specific Chinese geographical origins get to southwest Ohio?” Goldsmith told iPolitics.
The virus, which is mostly lethal to piglets, exploded in the U.S. and rapidly spread to Ontario. The disease had reached Ontario by Jan. 23, 2014, and five
months later, there had been 62 cases of PEDV in Ontario.
A rapid biosecurity response slowed the advance of the illness in Ontario. In 2015, there were only 16 cases, which dropped to 14 in 2016. There have been only six so far this year.
Goldsmith said that the FBI will likely never know whether it was ag-terrorism or not, but the concern was so great that the USDA (U.S. Department of Agriculture) asked the FBI to investigate that angle last year.
Unfortunately, too much time had passed. “If it had been intentional, any trail of that . . . is long gone,” he said. It highlights a need for law enforcement and agricultural agencies to talk to each other, he added.
The FBI has been warning that the United States is vulnerable to agricultural terrorism for about 10 years, Goldsmith said.
According to an FBI report, when a group of U.S. combat soldiers, SEAL Team 3, secured a number of caves in Afghanistan in 2002, they found “U.S. agricultural documents and Al-Qaeda training manuals targeting agriculture.”
An ag-terrorism bill was signed into law in the U.S. in July requiring the Department of Homeland Security to “prepare for and prevent events that could devastate agriculture and food production systems.”