The following information uses extracts from multiple reliable and qualified sources. The sources are noted further down this section.
Deliberate food contamination
Analysis of data indicates that the most common reason for the deliberate contamination of food was to disrupt business or tourism and cause economic loss rather than injure people. Thus, a distinction should be made between actions aimed at spreading pathogens in large populations and “symbolic” attacks designed to provoke social anxiety and economic loss. Contaminated food products often spread panic in the population. The mad cow disease and avian flu scares modified consumer behaviour in a very significant manner, creating negative effects on the market and massive losses for producers.
Ezell and von Winterfeldt have noted that estimating the probabilities of an attack on the food supply chain is a hard task, requiring knowledge about the motivation, intent and capabilities of attackers. In addition, these probabilities change with the defensive measures that are implemented. For these reasons, we focus our attention on food supply chain vulnerabilities with the goal of identifying them in order to implement preventive measures.
Biological and chemical agents
To estimate the risk posed by terrorist attacks, and more generally, criminal attacks, we consider the threats posed by the availability of various biological and chemical agents and their potential consequences. This is because any attack on the food supply chain requires the introduction of a dangerous agent. The agent can be added during harvest, storage, processing, preparation, retail or food service
Widespread monitoring of contamination is complicated by food imports. Research shows that the types of threat at different stages in the supply chain are essentially the same, although the impact and the ability to detect and neutralise the threats can be very different at varying stages in the process. In fact, the impact of a contaminant is greater when the agent is introduced early in the supply chain.
This complicates and delays the localisation of the contamination, especially when the adverse effects are not immediate. Also, a contaminant that is introduced in an early stage of the food supply chain is difficult to identify and isolate, especially if the problem is discovered after processing and delivery. However, some agents can be detected by quality control testing and neutralised during processing. On the other hand, as reported by Lee, et al., the most probable targets in the supply chain are food vendors, which includes food producers, retailers, restaurants and other food service establishments. This is because, even if the overall impact is limited in terms of the concrete consequences, the attacker would obtain a large “return on investment.”
The likelihood of an attack
Documented research also considers the “likelihood” of an attack. The likelihood takes into account the availability and manageability of the agents, the vulnerability of the specific product supply chain, and the possible effects in terms of causalities, economic loss and psychological impact. Specific consideration was given to:
- Processes in terms of their ability to neutralise agents and product accessibility.
- Company policies regarding employees and visits.
- Security measures adopted.
- Quality control mechanisms implemented (e.g., critical control points (HACCP) and (TACCP)).
The consequences of contamination vary according to the specific step in the supply chain that is targeted. An attack that targets a step closer to the consumer has a greater probability of success but affects fewer people. On the other hand, an attack in the early steps of the supply chain affects many more people, but has to evade many controls and countermeasures to be successful.
Transportation and storage
The transportation and storage steps are, in general, more vulnerable than the manufacturing step. Raw materials are more vulnerable than packaged products, but it is difficult to successfully target raw materials because of strong quality controls. Packaged products are more susceptible to contamination during transportation and storage. The risk is high and the probability of detection is very low – until consumers are affected.
Supply chain safety
The absence of major food contamination events leads us to believe that the food supply chain is relatively safe, but we cannot afford to be complacent. All the entities in the food supply chain should develop security plans for managing the risk. The hazard analysis and critical control points (HACCP) approach is an effective technique as it focuses on proactive (preventive) measures instead of reactive measures, which is prudent in any critical infrastructure sector, together with TACCP.
The aftermath of an attack
It is instructive to note that disruptions caused in previous attacks were not caused by the attack itself, but rather by the government’s response to the attack: closing borders, shutting down air traffic and evacuating buildings throughout the country. The aftermath of previous attacks has brought needed attention to the vulnerability of modern supply chains. Supply chain vulnerability reflects sensitivity of the supply chain to disruption.
The impact of terrorism
David Fairnie, Principal Consultant, Supply Chain Security at BSI said: “The direct impact from acts of terrorism and the indirect effects from terrorist organisations exploitation of the supply chain have been, and will continue to be, critically felt across Europe. Terrorist attacks in major cities and against key transportation nodes in the UK, Belgium, France, Germany and the Netherlands have triggered heightened security levels and emergency border controls across the continent, leading to significant commercial impact on our client’s businesses. BSI witnessed significant spikes in customer support requests, for our supply chain security advisory, resilience and business continuity services, after major terrorist events. I believe Supply Chain Terrorism will continue to significantly impact Europe for decades to come.”
In particular, terrorists increasingly targeted industries generally associated with private or corporate supply chains rather than state-owned supply chain infrastructure. Over three years of data, terrorist attacks against the agriculture and food and beverage sectors more than tripled, attacks on the industrial and manufacturing materials and pharmaceuticals sectors more than doubled, and attacks against the metals industry nearly doubled.
Jim Yarbrough – Global Intelligence Program Manager at BSI concluded: “It is a common misconception that terrorism is strictly a national security issue and that counterterrorism is solely the responsibility of governments. However, analysis clearly shows that commercial interests and private organisations are increasingly threatened, extorted, and directly targeted by terrorist organisations all over the world. Corporations must take notice and prepare their organisations accordingly. We know that industry leaders are implementing stronger supply chain security measures and ensuring that their business partners and international suppliers are fully vetted and armed with the information and knowledge that will protect their business. They understand that these measures can go a long way in maintaining their global operations and business continuity.”
Maintaining safety in the food supply chain
So where are we in the fight to maintain the safety and security of the food supply? Food corporations overall are refining their defences in response to new and evolving regulations, but also in response to increasing pressure from insurance carriers. Guidelines, at best, serve only as a baseline, whereas insurance incentives like rate reductions could immediately cause corporate defences to be bolstered. Food leaders increasingly understand that terrorism, like an unintentional contamination event, can rapidly become a serious brand issue. Food corporations are most likely to experience disruption from intentional contamination because of the actions of a disgruntled employee, but an attack from someone with terroristic motivations remains a possibility.
That kind of attack will be a game changer on many levels. Well-placed, the results could be catastrophic.
Given the difficulty of predicting what an “event” could look like, how is a food corporation to be prepared? A few suggestions to achieve this aim:
- Make preventive actions a priority.
- Design vetting programs for all new employees that include a police background check as a requirement for employment.
- Conduct annual police background checks on all employees, including management personnel.
- Initiate active employee location/time monitoring programs of all employees.
- Prioritise point security in areas where concentrated ingredients or products are located.
- Utilise tamper-evident packaging on products used as ingredients for other food products.
- Develop a tamper-evident packaging protocol, isolating a product until an investigation into the nature of the event is complete.
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