Agro-terrorism is a form of bioterrorism that is gradually taking shape across the world following realization by the terrorists that it is cheap but effective means of weakening great economies of the world, threatening the lives of many people and causing political instability.

Agricultural sector is highly susceptible to terrorists because agricultural activities occur in expansive tracts of land where security surveillance is minimal unlike business activities in towns that receive maximum protection from all forms of criminal activities. Moreover, ability to culture virulent pathogens and accessibility to poisonous chemicals predispose agricultural products to acts of terrorism.

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Water infrastructural systems also provide means to terrorists of propagating their activities since contamination of water using virulent pathogens and poisonous chemicals have magnified effect due to great number of industries, farms, people, and animals relying on water supply from a common source. Therefore, agro-terrorism activities that target food and water supply are posing threatening challenge to agricultural economy, health of population and political stability of many countries.


Following the September 11 2001 attacks, the United States has been facing constant terror from terrorists for they seemed to be in a position to use all possible means of attacks including biological weapons. Biological weapons are increasingly becoming terrorists’ means of attacking or instilling fears to Americans.

Given that agro-terrorism falls under biological weapons, terrorists have vowed to use agro-terrorism to attack United States and its allies across the world. This means that agro-terrorism is becoming a national security as it is threatening food production and subsequently human health. In agro-terrorism, terrorists generate plant and animal pathogens that have potential to cause diseases with the view of instilling fear, causing agricultural losses, economic instability, and even deaths of human beings.

Monke (2004) argues that, agriculture is more susceptible to acts of terrorism because terrorists prefer using plants and animals as they have diverse pathogens as compared to human beings, it is hard to protect expansive farms, production and processing of food entail long procedures, and that agriculture is central to economic growth of a country (p.5).

Thus, agriculture is a potential means of terrorism since human beings are dependent on agricultural food. Moreover, since human beings rely on water and aquatic organisms as food, water systems also pose potential source of terrorism. Given that agro-terrorism has potential effect on food and water systems, what are the current agro-terrorism events with respective lessons learned, and greatest impending threats that the world is facing?

Agro-Terrorism in Food and Water Systems

Agro-terrorism is threatening the safety of food and water systems because terrorists are increasingly innovating diverse means of propagating terrorism activities in jurisdictions of their perceived enemies. Counter-terrorism experts argue that agro-terrorism is an emerging terrorism issue that seems to have potential impact of undermining not only safety and security of the people, but also poses great challenge to health and economies of nations.

Due to its potential impacts, legal experts has defined agro-terrorism as deliberate use or introduction of pathogens such as bacteria, viruses, fungi or protozoa into plants and animals with the objective of eliciting food insecurity, threatening lives of the people, destabilizing food industry and consequently causing economic losses.

According to Hurt (2010), agro-terrorism is affordable means that terrorists use to attack United States’ economy, disrupts political stability, generate terror on food security and propagate their activities and networks (p.4). Despite the potential impact that agro-terrorism poses, the United States is insufficiently prepared because there are diverse pathogens that terrorists may deploy, thus making it hard to devise intervention measures that involve detection, prevention, and management in the event of attacks.

Although terrorists utilize pathogens that target animals and plants, their primary objective is to attack human beings. Since plants and animals interact effectively with human beings and provide source of staple food, terrorists have noted that introduction of pathogens through them is an effective and affordable means of creating terror among humanity.

Since economies of most countries heavily rely on agriculture, terrorists have found out that agro-terrorism is an effective way of crippling agricultural and food industries so as to subject target population to economic and political crises.

According to Monke (2004), potential impact of agro-terrorism emerged in the year 2002 when United States military found out Al-Qaeda manuals showing procedures of creating poisonous plants and animals to threaten existence of agricultural and food industries in United States with view of crippling the economy (p.6).

Since terrorists aim at crippling United States’ powers across the world, they are employing agro-terrorism in weakening social, economic, and political stability because agriculture interfaces with them.

Expansive nature of agricultural resources in farms and diversity of pathogens make it difficult to devise and implement counterterrorism measures. Moreover, agricultural production and processing of food is a long procedure that is highly susceptible to contamination by terrorists. Thus, agro-terrorism poses significant threat to food security and safety.

Apart from threatening food safety and security, terrorists can also direct their attacks on water infrastructural systems by contaminating or disrupting water supply.

Since government is responsible in ensuring that citizens get sufficient and quality water, contamination or disruption of water supply means that government does not perform its role of protecting the interests of the public, thus creates social and political instability. In addition, lack of water or contamination of water result into serious health and environmental problems that are difficult to address or costly to mitigate.

Copeland and Cody (2005) assert that, water infrastructural facilities are very susceptible to terrorist attacks because they have political inclination, play significant role in industries, and are essential in maintaining health conditions of Americans (p.3). Thus, agro-terrorists can disrupt or contaminate water supply that is critical irrigating expansive tracts of farms, hence causing a crisis in agriculture and food industries.

Moreover, water infrastructural systems intricately link with other infrastructures such as roads, electricity, pipelines, and communication lines making it a potential target for terrorists. Water infrastructural systems can become a potential means of propagating terrorism because large population of plants, animals, and human beings rely on a single dam or water reservoir.

Contamination of dams and reservoirs using pathogens or chemicals can have direct effects on plants, animals, and human beings or can cause indirect effects on human beings through food chain. According to Copeland and Cody (2005), water infrastructural systems pose great challenge in combating terrorism because terrorists introduce undetectable levels of pathogens or chemicals that have long-term health effects (p.9).

Pathogens are more dangerous because they are virulent, hard to detect, multiply exponentially and requires expensive interventions when eliminating them in water infrastructural systems, thus threatens the lives of many people. In this view, agro-terrorists can use water infrastructural systems as means of propagating their activities in the United States and across the world. Therefore, what are the current agro-terrorism events that affect food and water systems?

Ku Klux Klan Agro-Terrorism

In 1970, members of Ku Klux Klan carried out agro-terrorism by poisoning cattle that belonged to black farmers in Alabama, United States. Ku Klux Klan members envied that the black farmers in Alabama had large number of cattle that made them wealthy and thus planned to exterminate their cattle to weaken them economically.

Since livestock and human beings rely on water from common water supply systems, the Ku Klux Klan poisoned water using cyanide salt. The poisoned water led to death of great number of cattle and left others very adversely affected by the poison.

According to Foxell (2001), black farmers in Alabama were in great terror for the agro-terrorism acts of the Ku Klux Klan threatened their source of livelihood and by extension posed great threat to the safety of water systems in United States (p.117). The availability of poisonous chemicals like salt of cyanide, water supply as means reaching out targets and terrorists like Ku Klux Klan predispose people and livestock to agro-terrorism acts.

Following this agro-terrorism action, the greatest lesson learned is that terrorists can use water supply systems as a means of targeting livestock as well as people. Given that, water sources such as dams and reservoirs are very expansive which make it difficult to secure them, they present a potential means that terrorists can employ in carrying out their activities. Introduction of poisonous chemicals or virulent pathogens into water supply implies that both industrial and domestic uses of water become unsafe.

Copeland and Cody (2005) argue that water infrastructural systems offer terrorists effective means of carrying out their terrorism actions since they supply water to virtually all farms and households (p.12). Thus, water infrastructural systems as seen in the case of Ku Klux Klan poisoning of water provide infrastructural means for agro-terrorists to inflict terror on population and cause deaths to both animals and human beings.

Another lesson learned is that availability of water-soluble chemicals or pathogens that can survive in water enables terrorists to use water infrastructural systems as a means of targeting large population of livestock, crops, or people. If terrorists can easily access poisonous chemicals such as cyanide and virulent bacteria, all they need is just to contaminate water systems and subsequent all water supplies in a given city become contaminated.

The consequences of water contamination are very grave since chemicals and pathogens affect plants, animals, and people. By the time health experts identify the cause of massive poisoning or spread of diseases among the population, it would have cost many lives. Moreover, medical costs of treating patients and expenses incurred in decontaminating water supplies are very high for a nation, thus agro-terrorism affects negatively growth of economy and destabilizes the political climate.

To prevent future occurrence of agro-terrorism actions that target water infrastructural systems, the United States government and other nations across the world should ensure that sources of water supply and water infrastructural systems receive constant surveillance to prevent terrorists from contaminating them. Since water infrastructural systems are very expansive, they increase probability of terrorists contaminating water, hence there should be series of water treatment plants, which ensure real time testing and purification.

Byrne (2007) argues that highly sensitive detective techniques are essential in monitoring safety status of water so that incase of contamination, people can receive warning in time to avert impending crisis that would have occurred (p.18). Thus, water treatment experts and personnel carrying out surveillance of water infrastructural systems are critical in preventing terrorism actions. In addition, government should restrict access to poisonous chemicals and virulent pathogens in various laboratories.

Rajneeshee Agro-Terrorism

In 1984, cult members of Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh who believed that the world was going to end sooner due to atomic bomb or occurrence of some incurable diseases launched an agro-terrorism act where they contaminated food in a restaurant using a bacterium called Salmonella typhymurium.

The cult members aimed at incapacitating local population so that they could not vote in a local election and give them an upper hand in taking leadership. According to Dudley (2004), the cult members cultured Salmonella typhymurium, and came to restaurants in Dallas, Oregon where they spread the bacterial culture on salad bars (p.123).

The cult members sprayed bacterial culture on salad bars in several restaurants, on grocery stores, public places and doorknobs so that whoever touched contaminated surfaces with virulent bacteria were infected. During the fateful day of election, about 700 people were suffering from food poisoning although it never resulted into any death. This became the first incident of food poisoning that emanated from pathogens in the United States.

The incident of food poisoning that occurred at Dallas awakened Americans for they learned that food poisoning does not only occur due to chemicals, but also due to contamination of food by virulent pathogens.

The greatest lesson learned in the incident of food poisoning that occurred in Dallas is that virulent pathogens such as Salmonella typhymurium have capacity to infect greater number of population within a short period. Byrne (2007) asserts that ability of virulent pathogens to multiply rapidly and grow exponentially make them potential weapons that terrorists employ when targeting greater number of population (p.13).

Moreover, it is cheaper for terrorists to culture virulent pathogens than to make atomic weapons. Another lesson learned from Dallas’ incident of food poisoning is that pathogens are very hard to detect and thus food need to be in secure and safe places to prevent terrorists from accessing and contaminating it.

Prevention of food poisoning requires that foodstuffs should always be in safe and secure stores where limited number of people who deal with their storage, processing and packaging in industries can only access. Food industries and restaurant need to restrict strangers and screen them before allowing them to enter into specific places.

According to Byrne (2007), free entrance of strangers into the farms, food industries, hotels, and food stores pose great threat to food poisoning since agro-terrorists may take the opportunity and introduce virulent pathogens that contaminate food and eventually lead to food poisoning (p.18).

Moreover, the government should be vigilant in ensuring that terrorists do not build laboratories where they can culture virulent pathogens or gain access to available laboratories and use them in culturing and manipulating pathogens. Virulent pathogens that cause food poisoning need destruction so that they are neither easily available nor accessible to any potential agro-terrorists.

Wisconsin Agro-Terrorism

In 1996, agro-terrorists at Wisconsin, United States contaminated animal feeds with organophosphate pesticide, chlordane. Chlordane is a very poisonous insecticide that does not decompose immediately in the feed or in the animals. If animals ingest chlordane, it persists in their systems through accumulation and eventually passed to human being through various animal products, hence causing human poisoning.

In Wisconsin, agro-terrorists spread chlordane to over 4,000 farms that mainly produced dairy feeds. The agro-terrorists aimed at crippling lucrative farming activities that gave them competitive edge in dairy markets.

They targeted animal feeds because they were easy to contaminate and that they wanted to affect the quality of products and degrade safety confidence that people had in the dairy products that originated from farms. Schneider, Webb, Hubbard, and Archer (2009) explain that, contamination of over 4,000 farms using chlordane resulted into great losses because it led to recall of dairy products such as butter, cheese, milk, and ice cream of Midwestern states (p. 3).

The dairy farmers in Midwestern made great losses due to agro-terrorisms, which cost above $500 million combined with contaminated animal feeds. The chlordane contamination also posed great threat to human health because organophosphate, a component of chlordane is a poisonous chemical that accumulates up the food chain.

Lessoned learned from Wisconsin agro-terrorism is that contamination of animal feeds using pesticides such as chlordane with organophosphate does not only affect human health, but also has great economic losses that add into millions of dollars.

Organophosphate is a chemical component of chlordane that has detrimental effect on the animals and subsequently human beings since they will acquire it by consuming various dairy products such as milk, butter, cheese, butter, and meat.

Given the diversity of dairy products that human beings utilize daily and expansiveness of farms that produce feeds, it implies that dairy farming offers potential means that terrorists can use in threatening the existence of humanity and in crippling economies that rely on agriculture.

Padilla (2008) affirms that, well coordinated agro-terrorism attacks in United States farms can have significant impact on economy because farming and related economic activities accounts for about 16% of employment opportunities (p.55). Hence, misuse of agricultural chemicals such as pesticides can have detrimental effects to both human health and agricultural economy.

To prevent future occurrence of agro-terrorism that involves contamination of animal feeds using harmful pesticides that have organophosphate such as chlordane, the government should ensure that there are no harmful pesticides in the markets.

If harmful pesticides are accessible to agro-terrorists, they will use them when they want to attack farmers, entire populations and eventually cripple agricultural economy. For farmers and consumers of dairy products to be safe, government need to ensure that there are no harmful pesticides or other chemicals that agro-terrorists can potentially utilize in threatening lives of people or animals.

According to Padilla (2008), to combat agro-terrorism, agro-chemicals require certification of safety to prevent terrorists from taking advantage of available chemicals in propagating their activities (p.58). Thus, government must ensure that all agro-industries produce safe chemicals that affect neither animals nor human beings. Moreover, mega farming companies need to monitor constantly their farms because they are potential targets of terrorists.

The Aum Shinrikyo Agro-Terrorism

Aum Shinrikyo is a religious sect, which believed that doomsday was to happen according to their apocalyptic prophecy that they had preached across Japan. Seeing that probability of doomsday happening was quite negligible, the sect planned to release anthrax and other pathogens both into the livestock and people so that they can prove their prophecies.

In 1995, the sect attempted to spread anthrax pathogens across Japan targeting both animals and populations to enhance spread of pathogens. The sect carried out agro-terrorism acts across Japan because they wanted to weaken political stability and attain power so that they could establish their own theocratic state.

According to Turvey, Mafoua, Schilling, and Onyango (2003), in spite of numerous series of attacks that the sect conducted in Tokyo, Japan, the spread of anthrax and other pathogens failed to become virulent and thus no one suffered from any sicknesses related to the attacks (p.26). The pathogens were not virulent because the sect did not manipulate and develop the pathogens well in their laboratories to become virulent as they expected.

Further investigation of the sect members led to the discovery that they were developing a host of virulent pathogens, which included anthrax, Ebola virus, botulinum toxin, cholera, and dangerous chemicals such as sarin gas and hydrogen cyanide. The pathogens and chemicals did not only threaten existence of humanity and animals, but also political and economic stability of Japan.

Following this incident, the lesson learned is that agro-terrorists can use virulent pathogens that target animals, food, and people in causing great terror and havoc in a country. The Aum Shinrikyo sect use of variety of virulent pathogens did not only threaten existence of humanity and their animals, but also caused political and economic stability of Japan. The incident depicted that terrorists are devising all possible means of instilling terror among populations, causing great economic losses and even loss of lives.

Since the sect members used virulent pathogens of anthrax, which affect both animals and human beings, they aimed at causing both the death of human beings and animals. Moreover, given that the sect members were developing other virulent pathogens and preparing dangerous chemicals, it means that they had well equipped laboratories where they manipulated pathogens and prepared chemicals.

Monke (2004) argues that, agro-terrorists can generate pathogens that affect plants, animals, and human beings at the same time if they want to cause utter destruction of a nation (p.21). Thus, the Aum Shinrikyo sect was developing various kinds of virulent pathogens so that they could decimate population of Japan within a short period, but their plan did not work as they expected it.

Prevention of future occurrence of agro-terrorism acts that involve spread of pathogens requires the government to investigate all laboratories to ensure that they do not store virulent pathogens or manipulate microbes. The government needs also to be vigilant in monitoring terrorist activities with objective of tracking and preventing them from committing heinous crimes. Given that pathogens have ability to multiply exponentially and spread across population within a short time, it poses great challenge to intervention measures.

According National Defense Research Institute (2003), since pathogens and agro-chemicals are central in agro-terrorism, and are accessible and affordable, government should establish intelligence surveillance of potential terrorists’ attacks, carryout vaccination and establish laboratories that monitor occurrence of virulent diseases in time to avert serious crises (p.2).

As a preventive measure, vaccination of animals and population is critical in averting and alleviating impacts of agro-terrorism attacks and controlling spread of pathogens in population.

Chilean Agro-Terrorism

In 1989, there was great political rivalry in Chile, which prompted anti-Pinochet movement to poison grapes with cyanide so that they could weaken agricultural economy and subsequently create political instability in the country.

According to Turvey, Mafoua, Schilling, and Onyango (2003), poisoning of grapes with cyanide led to serious economic crisis in agriculture, as major importers of Chilean fruits such as United States, United Kingdom, Canada and other countries suspended their importation because consumers feared poisoning (p.24).

The anti-Pinochet movement used cyanide successfully in poisoning grapes and weakening Chilean fruit farming because it led to losses that added up to $210 million. Moreover, grape poisoning led to political instability as farmers lost confidence in government, and damaged bilateral relationship with business partners across the world.

Chilean agro-terrorism led to realization that use of poisonous chemicals such as cyanide has detrimental effects on agriculture, human beings, and political stability of a nation. Agricultural sector can lose millions of dollars when agro-terrorists poison agricultural produce because customers will shy away from buying products that emanates from the region where attacks occurred.

If a country loses confidence of customers due to agro-terrorism, it directly translates into losses since customers turn to competitive products that are in the markets. Moreover, restoring confidence of customers is an expensive and daunting task that ultimately slows down agricultural economy in a country.

oxell (2001) argues that agricultural economy is very fragile and susceptible to terrorism yet it is central to economic development in any nation (p.27). Thus, Chilean incident proved that agro-terrorism have grave impact on agricultural economy and subsequently political stability because it also affect lucrative relationships with other countries and citizens’ confidence on government.

Since agricultural economy plays a central role in general economic development of nations and provides stable food supply to the people, it is imperative that government aids farmers in protecting their farms and agricultural products.

The Chilean agro-terrorists successfully used cyanide, which is a poisonous chemical, in poisoning grapes so that Chilean fruit industry could lose competitive advantage in the world market. Subsequently, the Chilean fruit industry and farmers made great losses worth $210 million dollars. Therefore, government should ensure that poisonous chemicals that terrorists can potentially utilize in agro-terrorism are inaccessible to public who do not have appropriate certification to use them.

According to National Defense Research Institute (2003), comprehensive intervention measures are critical in ensuring safety and security of food during production and processing to prevent terrorists from poisoning agricultural products (p. 4). Hence, surveillance of farms and carrying out real time quality analysis of agricultural products can help in averting great economic losses that resulting from agro-terrorism.

Greatest Agro-Terrorism Threats

Agricultural economy is very fragile because it is susceptible to various actions of agro-terrorisms such as food, animal, plants and water poisoning or contamination. In this instance, food and water systems are the main targets that terrorists focus in achieving their ends. Food poisoning is the greatest agro-terrorist threat because production of food is a long process that entails farming, processing, and distribution to respective consumers.

The long process of food production provides an opportunity for terrorists to poison or contaminate food using chemicals and pathogens. Pathogens pose greatest threat to humanity and agricultural economy because it is hard to detect their presence in food and they spread very fast. Unlike chemicals that can undergo dilution with time, pathogens multiply exponentially and increase in number, hence threatens existence of animals and humanity.

Monke (2004) asserts that, it is very difficult to detect presence of pathogens in food samples unless they cause contamination because agro-terrorists are generating new strains of pathogens, which require a lot of time to identify and classify (p.11). Thus, identification and classification of new strains of pathogens is a great challenge in combating agro-terrorism, and therefore agro-terrorists are taking advantage of weak intervention measures that result into slow response to their attacks.

Water infrastructural systems are other target for terrorists because disruption of water supply or contamination of water results into grave consequences in health and economy. The case of Ku Klux Klan poisoning of water using cyanide salt depicted that poisoning of water using lethal chemicals or virulent pathogens adversely affect the lives of people and animals that rely on poisoned water supply.

Since there are numerous pathogens that can contaminate water, terrorists can decide to use numerous pathogens at the same time in contaminating dams and water reservoirs. The contamination will result into grave consequences because it is very difficult and take great deal of time for water experts to indentify and classify each strain of pathogens. In addition, given that patients will depict various symptoms of illness, it will be very confusing for medical experts to ascertain real cause of water poisoning.

Expansive nature of water systems make them prone to contamination or poisoning as security are not able to carry out real time surveillance of water systems. Hence, multiple poisoning of water systems is a potential threat that terrorists may employ in targeting population that lives in cities and have common source of water supply.


Agro-terrorism is an emerging issue in terrorism because since Second World War, cases of terrorism attacks that target agriculture and human beings have been gradually increasing. Since the aim of terrorists is to weaken economies and create political instability of their enemies, agricultural sector has provided an effective platform for terrorists to achieve their desired ends.

As examined in various cases of agro-terrorism across the world such as Ku Klux Klan, Wisconsin and Chilean agro-terrorism, it emerged that agricultural sector is highly susceptible to terrorism acts that involve poisoning or contamination of agricultural products using chemicals and pathogens. During the dawn of 21st century, the Unite States faced serious terrorism attacks on September 11, 2001 and subsequently experienced anthrax attacks.

The anthrax attacks signaled that terrorists are gradually beginning to use biological weapons in expanding their terrorism actions and instilling terror on Americans and entire world’s population. The terrorists have realized that agro-terrorism is an affordable means of causing political instability, threatening lives of many people, and weakening economies of great nations.


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Copeland, C., & Cody, B. (2005). Terrorism and Security Issues Facing the Water Infrastructure Sector. Congressional Research Service, 1-15.

Dudley, W. (2004). Biological Warfare: Opposing Viewpoints. New York: Greenhaven Press.

Foxell, J. (2001). Current Trends in Agro-terrorism (Anti-livestock, Anti-crop, and Anti-soil Bio-agricultural Terrorism) and Their Potential Impact on Food Security. Studies in Conflict and Terrorism, 24, 107-129.

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Turvey, C., Mafoua, E., Schilling, B., & Onyango, B. (2003). Economics, Hysteresis and Agro-terrorism. Food Policy Institute, 1-28.


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