In the rush to adjourn for the holidays, Congress pushed through a $390 billion spending package that will help keep the government running through next year. But missing from that bill was funding for the country-of-origin labeling law, or COOL. With White House backing, lawmakers delayed until 2006 the labels that identify where many foods are produced. Originally set to take effect next September, supporters say they'll rekindle the issue when Congress reconvenes in January.
Backers of COOL argue the law is good for American-raised beef, pork, fruits and vegetables ... and also has national security implications. Indeed, two years after the terrorist attacks of 9-11, food security still is on the minds of many in Washington.
When it comes to terrorism in the post-September 11 era, food and agriculture gained just a fleeting moment in the media ... primarily in reference to men of Middle Eastern descent taking an interest in learning to fly crop dusters.
Senator Susan Collins (R) Maine: "Never the less, much of America remains unprotected. A vital sector remains largely unguarded and an attack could be devastating."
But food security is an issue that has not disappeared from the radar in Congress. The Senate Governmental Affairs committee is looking into the country's vulnerability and what needs to happen to ensure the safety of the nation's food supply... starting at the farm level.
Dr. Tom McGinn, North Carolina Department of Agriculture: "Terrorists could actually put it on a handkerchief, bring it into our country, from any country that has foot and mouth disease in the world, just put it on a handkerchief and bring it in, and infect multiple sites"
Dr. Tom McGinn of the North Carolina Department of Agriculture testified that once "clandestinely" infected, a virus like Foot and Mouth takes three to five days to discover and could spread quickly before being detected and treated.
The witnesses encouraged the committee to consider mapping every site where livestock are raised, where processing plants are located, and to start looking for specific disposal sites for large numbers of deliberately contaminated livestock.
Dr. Tom McGinn, "The disease is continuing to move on and, we never, it's like a fire that's out of control, we never actually get ahead of the fire, because we don't know where the fire is, we're always behind the curve, trying to contain the spread of this virus."
Despite the doomsday scenarios, there was at least one viewpoint to calm any fears of immediate concern.
Dr. Peter Chalk, Rand Corporation: Despite the ease in which agricultural terrorism can be carried out, and the potential ramifications of such a scenario, I don't think it is likely to constitute a primary form of terrorist agression. This is because acts, while significant are delayed, they lack a certain point of reference for the media to latch on to and to emphasize."