The capture of Iraqi oil fields by the U.S. alliance and the promises of OPEC allies to make up any production shortfalls have more than stabilized oil prices. Domestically though things remain less certain.
On Tuesday of this week, Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge announced the country's security alert had been moved up one notch … from yellow to the second highest of 5 levels-- orange. That means heightened measures will be taken for a number of things including more border patrols, additional safety precautions at airports, railroad facilities, and more security at major U.S. ports and waterways. There is also a plan for heightened security over the nation's food supply.
In what's being called "Operation Liberty Shield",
the federal government is trying to protect from terrorist tampering almost every phase of the nation's food system -- from imported products … to food processing … to domestic livestock.
Ann Veneman,Secretary of Agriculture: "We are stepping up inspections of meat plants."
On the domestic side, USDA secretary Ann Veneman is calling for increased inspections of certain factories and is asking food processors to train workers to spot suspicious behavior or possible food tampering. Food plants should also inspect all vehicles entering facilities.
State and private authorities are encouraged to monitor feedlots and stockyards. And, as has been a guideline since the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, farmers should report to local agriculture officials any unusual changes in animal health or in the appearance of crops.
Since 9-11, the USDA has hired 20 new Import Surveillance Liaison inspectors to be deployed at strategic points of entry to re-inspect imported meat and poultry products for contamination.
No matter the extra measures taken, the General Accounting Office reported this week the nation's food supply is still vulnerable because those in the food business are not forced to share their detailed security plans with the government. Some food manufacturers say sharing their security plan would make them susceptible to attacks if their plan was released to the public.
In January, it was announced the USDA budget would include $70 (M) million dollars in new funding to strengthen agricultural protection systems … which would include increased security measures at key USDA buildings, such as laboratories.