One concern that American farmers haven't had to worry about is an epidemic that could wipe out crops or livestock herds and flocks. Despite concerns over bio-terrorism, the nation's farms seem secure.
But, some American scientists caution that U.S. agriculture is not immune from the disasters that have befallen farmers abroad.
Last year, an extensive study conducted by Harvard University concluded it was "extremely unlikely" that an outbreak of BSE, or Mad Cow disease, would occur in the United States. This week, the Government Accounting Office presented its study that places the U.S. in the "unlikely but not excluded" category.
When BSE was first identified in the mid 90s in Britain, it was believed there was no possibility the brain wasting disease could cross from bovines to humans. But a short time later the first case of the human variant, known as Creutzfeldt-Jakob (KRAUTS-feld YAK-off) disease, was discovered. Since then, 100 deaths in Britain have been attributed to CJD. The outbreak spawned an economically devastating cattle cull in the United Kingdom that cost British producers hundreds of millions of dollars.
At the same time, the U.S. was already taking precautions to prevent an outbreak of Mad Cow on American soil. Those precautions included banning the practice of supplementing cattle feed with meat and bone meal from sheep, goats, and cattle. The brains and spinal cords of infected animals are believed to be the organs that harbor BSE.
The GAOs concern centers around this rule. Government Officials conducted a random survey of more than 10-thousand 5-hundred feeding operations and found 364 in violation.
The USDA responded to the GAO study by insisting that the U.S. is safe from Mad Cow due to its aggressive and proactive prevention program. The Department has also moved to strengthen those programs through increased inspection of animals and improvements to communication channels between federal agencies.