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WASHINGTON -- Dairy industry representatives leapt to the defense of the safety and security of the nation's milk supply yesterday, in the wake of a study published by the National Academy of Sciences suggesting that the industry is vulnerable to terrorist attacks, detailing how the milk supply is vulnerable, and theorizing that hundreds of thousands of citizens could be poisoned.
An article about the NAS study, "Analyzing a Bioterror Attack on the Food Supply: The Case of Botulinum Toxin in Milk," by Lawrence Wein and Yifan Liu, was published by the academy despite criticism from Department of Health and Human Services Assistant Secretary Stewart Simonson. In a letter sent to the NAS chief, Simonson said the paper was a "road map for terrorists, and publication is not in the interest of the United States."
In an editorial accompanying the article, the science academy chief, Dr. Bruce Alberts, defended the study's release as necessary for encouraging open discourse among the scientific and regulatory community about how to deal with potential threats. He said the information about how the milk supply could be compromised is "immediately accessible on the World Wide Web." One of the paper's authors, Lawrence Wein, said he hoped the paper would "nudge the food industry" toward better security.
The International Dairy Foods Association, National Milk Producers Federation, and Dairy Management, Inc. issued a joint statement maintaining that the country's milk supply is safe and secure.
"The safety and security of the milk supply is of the utmost importance to America's dairy farmers and dairy foods companies," said the dairy groups. "For the past three years -- since the events of 9-11 -- the dairy industry has been working closely with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the Food and Drug Administration, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and other government departments to further safeguard the milk supply from a variety of possible threats. This includes safeguarding against the events described in the Wein paper recently published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. In short, the events described by the Wein paper are highly unlikely or impossible, given the safeguards in place by the dairy industry."
The dairy representatives noted examples of the preventative measures the industry has taken, "diligently, without fanfare," including new standards for sealing milk tankers, which would make tampering immediately evident; and additional pasteurizing safeguards, which would eliminate the botulinum threat that Wein described in the paper.
U.S. dairy employers have also taken steps to increase awareness among their employees about security measures at the farm and in processing facilities, including increased security of milk storage areas. Meanwhile, dairy plants have secured entry systems, employee screening programs, and restricted access on the plant floor, according to the statement; and packaging operations are automated, enclosed, and secure.