A bioterrorism attack is the deliberate release of viruses, bacteria, or other germs (agents) used to cause illness or death in people, animals, or plants. These agents are typically found in nature, but it is possible that they could be changed to increase their ability to cause disease, make them resistant to current medicines, or to increase their ability to spread in the environment.
Bioterrorism is an attractive weapon because biological agents are relatively easy and inexpensive to obtain or produce, can be easily disseminated, and can cause widespread fear and panic beyond the actual physical damage they can cause. Bioterrorism, according to military leaders has some important limitations; a main on being that it is difficult to employ a bio-weapon in a way that only the enemy is affected and not friendly forces.
Biological agents can be spread through the air, through water, or in food. Terrorists may use biological agents because they can be extremely difficult to detect and do not cause illness for several hours to several days.
The events of September 11, 2001, reinforced the need to enhance security in the U.S. Since then, Congress passed several laws to better prepare the nation that affect the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). In particular, on June 12, 2002 the Public Health Security and Bioterrorism Preparedness and Response Act of 2002 (Bioterrorism Act) was signed into law by President Bush. The Public Health Security and Bioterrorism Preparedness and Response Act, commonly known as The Bioterrorism Act of 2002, are designed to protect the U.S. from bioterrorism.
The law authorizes the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to take action to protect the nation’s food supply against the threat of intentional contamination. The FDA, as the food regulatory arm of HHS, is responsible for developing and implementing these food safety measures.
The Secretary of Health and Human Services is authorized under the Bioterrorism Act to:
- Make awards of grants or cooperative agreements to be expended to develop bioterrorism response plans and provide training for responding to biological attacks[i].
- Make grants to eligible entities to carry out demonstration programs to improve the detection of pathogens likely to be used in a bioterrorist attack, the development of plans and measures to respond to bioterrorist attacks, and the training of personnel involved with various responsibilities and capabilities needed to respond to acts of bioterrorism upon the civilian population[ii].
- Establish a working group on the prevention, preparedness, and response to bioterrorism[iii].
- Provide technical or other assistance, in consultation with the Attorney General and the Secretary of Defense, to provide security to persons or facilities that conduct development, production, distribution, or storage of priority countermeasures[iv].
[i] 42 USCS § 247d-3a.
[ii] 42 USCS § 247d-7.
[iii] 42 USCS § 247d-6.
[iv]42 USCS § 247d-7d.