The FBI is taking a bigger interest in U.S. food safety, focusing specifically on intentional contamination and spending more resources on tracking incidents, FBI Supervisory Special Agent Thomas Rosato said during a briefing held by the University of Minnesota’s National Center for Food Protection and Defense.
While the FDA and other agencies focus on incidents of foodborne illnesses from produce or other products, the FBI steps in when when a person or organization tampers with the food supply, for reasons ranging from terrorism to economic motives.
“It starts with an understanding that we are in a fight,” Rosato said. “There are people who would try to harm and terrorize through the food system.”
The FBI has a food defense mission and can assign thousands of agents for a “surge” in the event of a major threat to the food supply. A response would be national and yet also run out of FBI field offices, using the agency’s Joint Terrorism Task Forces, Hazardous Evidence Response Teams and agents specializing in intelligence analysis.
“We get the fact that because of its systemic nature, our food supply would be a very effective dispersal device for weapons of mass destruction,” Rosato said, while adding he was not able to discuss any specific threats or investigations.
Still, the FBI needs help with these types of investigations from the FDA, USDA, CDC, and other agencies and industries that know more about matters of health and science. FBI has the expertise in the investigatory process, Rosato said.
Part of that expertise involves doing what the FBI calls a threat credibility evaluation. Rosato said this is “a bit of common sense applied at a grand scale” to determine what level of threat exists and guide recommendations for action at the local, state and federal level.
The FBI plans to increase the ability of its agents to investigate threats to the food supply, and Rosato said since 9/11 the agency has put a growing emphasis on prevention.
That means better use of InfraGard , a non-profit, private-public partnership between the FBI and business community set up for information sharing. Rosato said the agency knows it needs to better use InfraGard as a resource for pulling the agriculture sector into investigations.
The FBI also is training its agents on how food manufacturing is done so they will be more familiar with the industry.