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WASHINGTON - The Agriculture Department on Tuesday told food processors and farmers to increase security in light of the heightened terror alert.
"Our experts have provided security guidelines for producers, processors and food providers in order to strengthen systems at the local level," said Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman.
The government raised the terror level from yellow to orange on Monday, indicating there's a high risk of terrorism against American interests. It was elevated as the nation prepared for a possible attack on Iraq.
Security has been increased at key USDA buildings, such as laboratories. Veneman also said emergency response teams at the department have been put on standby in case of a terrorist attack.
After Sept. 11, the agency hired 20 more inspectors to check imported meat for contamination. Veneman said the agency also developed a network of laboratories to help detect and diagnose diseases -- such as anthrax -- that terrorists could use as a weapon.
On Wednesday US Secretary of Homeland Security Tom Ridge said the United States will increase disease surveillance and food security in what is being called "Operation Liberty Shield." He said while there was not a specific threat to the food supply, it's certainly an area that should be monitored.
"I think what we need to understand, and hopefully -- we need to remind ourselves from time to time that bin Laden and al Qaeda and the network of terrorists around the world have historically targeted the broadest possible range of economic interests, national interests, symbolic interest in our country. I daresay if you went back and take a look at the list of threats that have -- generic threats, generic targets that we've heard from bin Laden and al Qaeda and the network the past 17 months, you'll find just about everything that we view as assets and very important to our way of life has been included in that on a list somewhere," he said.