Valley faces growing agroterrorism threat

FRESNO, Calif.

Thursday's Agroterrorism Summit at the Kearney Agricultural Center in Parlier was an eye-opener for a lot of farmers dealing with rural crime on a daily basis. They learned how Valley food production could be targeted by terrorists.

Former FBI agent Tom Knowles told local farmers agroterrorism is a real threat. Knowles warned some groups are intent on disrupting American food and beverage production, especially here in the Valley.

Knowles said, "11 billion dollar industry. We have had groups such as al qaeda that have spoken about targeting the agricultural world."

No arrests were ever made in a January arson attack at Harris Ranch, a major beef producer near Coalinga. 14 tractor trailers were damaged.

Fresno County Sheriff Margaret Mims called it a domestic act of terrorism. "I believe it was a wakeup call. It really let people know it could happen here. It could happen to individual farmers so we talked a lot of about what to look for. People taking photographs, people that don't belong."

Or even a rise in the number of sick or dead livestock. Instead of bombs, farmers like Randy Rocca of Biola learned the tools of agroterrorism can be unassuming.

Rocca explained, "Every time we turn around there's another insect that's attacking something. We're just assuming it's something local but it could have brought into this country illegally as a form of terrorism."

Knowles works for the Regional Terrorism Threat Assessment Center. He said people shouldn't assume produce recalls are the result of accidental contamination.

Farmers were also told to be more vigilant. Many of them have already installed improved lighting and even surveillance cameras to deal with on-going theft problems.

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