In an effort to protect Illinois farms, consumers and food systems from criminal and terrorist activity, several federal and state agencies, as well as Illinois agriculture and commodity groups, have partnered to form the Illinois Agro-Security Working Group.
"Illinois farms are more vulnerable to terrorist activity than most people realize," said Dave Patton, Field Operations Manager, Illinois Farm Bureau (IFB). "There have been some cases in other states where a person noticing suspicious behavior has helped capture a would-be terrorist, so we know agro-terrorism is a real threat."
The working group includes representatives of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), IFB, Illinois Pork Producers, Illinois Soybean Association, Illinois Corn Growers Association, Illinois Beef Association, Midwest Dairy Association, Illinois Fertilizer and Chemical Association (IFCA), United States Department of Agriculture - Veterinary Services (USDA-VS), Illinois Department of Agriculture (IDOA), Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (IEPA), Illinois State Police, Illinois Statewide Terrorism and Intelligence Center (STIC) and Illinois Emergency Management Agency (IEMA).
"The working group is really an attempt to get out in front of the agro-terrorism issue before something tragic happens," said David A. Ford, Special Agent in Charge, Springfield Division, FBI. "Illinois producers are on the front lines in the battle to protect agriculture and food systems in the state, and that's why it was so important and beneficial for us to partner with so many agricultural associations. It really allows all of us to play a part in protecting the food supply here in Illinois."
To help farmers identify possible threats, the working group recently produced a brochure that outlines indicators of agro-terrorism, such as unauthorized photography of processes in or around facilities or farm, thefts of livestock and attempts to rent or borrow agriculture-related equipment for no logical reason or purpose. It also stresses the importance of monitoring livestock for any suspicious illnesses or symptoms, including central nervous system disorders and sudden, unexplained death or loss.
"The brochure doesn't necessarily provide farmers with a comprehensive list of things to watch for, but it certainly gives them a good starting point," said Jim Kaitschuk, executive director, Illinois Pork Producers Association. "Ultimately, our producers know their animals and their operations better than anyone else and they need to be the instigators when it comes to reporting any potential threat."
In the end, members of the working group hope their partnership and the information they can provide helps to keep Illinois farms, farmers and consumers safe.
"Illinois farmers have always strived to provide the safest, most economical food supply for our consumers and our own families," said Rodney Weinzierl, executive director, Illinois Corn Growers Association. "This initiative will only help to make sure our food supply stays that way."
To request an agro-terrorism brochure, farmers should contact organizations represented in the working group or visit member organizations' websites. To report a crime in progress or suspicious behavior, farmers should call 911 or the FBI at 217-522-9675.