Bioterrorism involves using infectious agents or other harmful biological or biochemical substances as weapons. Besides instilling fear, attacks against agriculture using plant pathogens as bioweapons (agroterrorism) would cause economic losses and give rise to political instability. The EU-funded PLANTFOODSEC (Plant and food biosecurity) initiative established a virtual Plant and Food Biosecurity Centre to enhance international preparedness against agroterrorism attacks. Team members first identified the plant pathogens and pests that threaten the most important food crops as priorities for research and regulatory policy. They then studied the fungal pathogen Fusarium proliferatum, which damages crops and impacts human health through cancer-causing toxins, as a model for deliberate pest introduction. Human food-borne pathogens that cause disease outbreaks, like Escherichia coli and salmonella, were also flagged as potential bioweapons. To contain threats from deliberate food contamination, structures were put in place for coordinated European-wide disease surveillance, detection and response programmes. PLANTFOODSEC researchers created a risk evaluation scheme for agroterrorism threats as well as a framework for a web-based diagnostic network. The project completed several training and networking activities to increase awareness of plant biosecurity and food safety amongst scientists and policymakers. Researchers also worked on diagnostic tools for food safety, studied the regulatory environment and modelled the spread of various plant diseases. PLANTFOODSEC played a central role in plant and food biosecurity dissemination, awareness and communication. This will improve national and regional responses to agroterrorism threats.
Bioterrorism, bioweapons, agroterrorism, PLANTFOODSEC, plant and food biosecurity