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- As many as 1,000 people are expected to gather here in November for a first-time symposium on practical ways to protect the nation's food supply.
The gathering, Great Lakes Agro-Security Symposium
, will draw public and private sector representatives from regional states and Canadian provinces, according to David Duecker, who, with the Wisconsin Procurement Institute, is helping to plan the event.
"There has been nothing else like this in the country," said Duecker, director of the Southeastern Wisconsin Homeland Security Partnership. There have been other, higher-level conferences addressing regulations and such, he added, but nobody has drilled down to who is going to give the practical tools to farmers and those involved in the food processing chain.
"People are beginning to take a look at agriculture and the food supply, but not at this level," Duecker said, noting the effort is taking an "all-hazards" approach - from natural problems to bio-terrorism.
"There are a lot of vulnerabilities" in the food chain, he said.
"Our agriculture and food systems are vulnerable to disease, pest, or poisonous agents that occur naturally, are unintentionally introduced, or are intentionally delivered by acts of terrorism," Duecker said in a release. "Homeland Security Presidential Directive, (HSPD-9), clearly establishes the roles and responsibilities of the government and the private sector in protecting this critical infrastructure and key resources."
The government late last year implemented new rules intended to trace the source of food contamination, particularly in the event of a bioterror attack on the food supply. The recordkeeping regulations were imposed just as outgoing Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson commented on the vulnerability of the nation's food supply, saying in his resignation news conference that, "For the life of me, I cannot understand why the terrorists have not attacked our food supply because it is so easy to do."
He was widely criticized for the remark, but many observers noted he correctly pointed out the need to get a better handle on the food supply chain.
The goal of the November event, according to Duecker, is "to help secure and protect our agriculture and food supply infrastructure, from `farm to fork,' by gathering the private and public sector stakeholders to discuss vulnerabilities and threats to the industry, strategies, information and intelligence sharing, implementation and best practices, and emerging technologies and services benefiting the supply chain."
It's ultimately about creating public and private networks that can collaborate on best practices and that can readily work together through those networks, Duecker said.
Wisconsin, which has a strong agriculture growing and processing economy, will be the site of the inaugural symposium simply by chance - the idea was hatched here. But future symposiums could be in any Great Lakes city, Duecker noted. The idea for the symposium arose from the Southeastern Wisconsin Homeland Security Partnership, which last year identified planks of the region's critical infrastructure - agriculture being one of those.
The event, set for Nov. 1-3 at the Hyatt Regency in downtown Milwaukee, is expected to draw national attention and attendance from regulators, law enforcement, responders, researchers, service providers, producers and consumers, manufacturers and processors, packers and transporters, distributors and receivers, and import/export operators.
Along with establishing and directing the Southeast Wisconsin Homeland Security Partnership, Duecker is president of the National Security Network, Inc., a Wisconsin not-for-profit corporation, which he said, was established "to facilitate cutting edge information and technology sharing among public and private users in the national security arena."