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Training marks start of state agrosecurity network

By Brad Haire
University of Georgia

University of Georgia Extension Service county agents met in Tifton, Ga., March 7-8 to learn how to teach farmers, emergency workers, veterinarians and others how to respond to an incident that might jeopardize Georgia's food supply or farm economy.

Georgia Agroterrorism Committee members trained the county agents. With the training, agents will start this summer setting up a network of people to become the eyes and ears for the state in the case of an accident or attack, said Don Hamilton, UGA Extension Service homeland security coordinator.

"Once people complete the training," Hamilton said, "they'll have a much better idea of what an agrosecurity incident looks like and what to do if it occurs."

About 125 from south Georgia took part in the training. Another train-the-trainer session is set for county agents in north Georgia later this month.

Georgia is the first state to develop and offer an agrosecurity training program, said Lee Myers, assistant commissioner for the Georgia Department of Agriculture and chair of the agroterrorism committee. It could be used as a model for other states.

The committee plans to have 3,500 people trained statewide by the end of the year.

Most people aren't aware how vulnerable the food supply is to agroterrorism, Myers said. Agroterrorism is defined as any intentional use of chemical, biological or radiological agents or explosives to destroy crops or livestock or disrupt food distribution.

"Most cities have less than a seven-day food supply," Myers said.

People who take the training can also help the state respond to natural disasters such as hurricanes and floods, said Corrie Brown, a professor with the UGA College of Veterinary Medicine.

"Mother Nature may be the ultimate terrorist," she said.

The program will also teach people how important the agricultural industry is to the state's economy, said Hamilton.

Georgia’s food and fiber industry directly accounts for about $29.5 billion of the state’s $544 billion economy and 17 percent of its total manufacturing output, according to John McKissick, coordinator for the UGA’s Center for Agribusiness and Economic Development.

The program will be an opportunity for certified personnel, such as emergency workers and veterinarians, to get free training hours to maintain their certifications, too.

Having trained workers would also help small communities become eligible for grants from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, said Phil Williams with the Georgia Emergency Management Agency.

(Brad Haire is the former news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)

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