Feb 222005
Authors: Lindsay Reiter

The annual Colorado Agricultural Outlook Forum will focus on bioterrorism and the prevention and management of potential terrorist attacks on the United States on Thursday in Denver.

Reagan Waskom, a water resources specialist at CSU and one of the speakers at last year's event, described the forum as "the premier agricultural conference of the year."

This year's forum is titled "Safeguarding our Future" and will be held at the Renaissance Denver Hotel.

Students, as well as community members, involved in agriculture across the state attend the annual forum. The registration fee is $35 for students and $100 for community members.

Marc Johnson, vice provost for agriculture and outreach at CSU and dean of the College of Agricultural Sciences, will be speaking at the forum about biosecurity in his speech, titled "Agro Security: Research and Outreach Challenges."

"The U.S. military, the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Homeland Security are working to build the capacity of the nation to withstand threats of biosecurity," Johnson said. "Terrorists can fly planes into buildings or they can use bioterrorism and spread animal, plant or human diseases and disrupt the economy."

In his speech Johnson will explain the three challenges CSU is working on solving to help with the prevention of bioterrorism.

"The first thing we're doing is building our diagnostic capacity to do rapid analysis and cataloguing incidents of animal and plant diseases," Johnson said.

An unusual influx in an animal or plant disease can be the result of a bioterrorist attack. It is the researchers' job at CSU to investigate and determine whether it is caused by natural or unnatural occurrences.

"Second, we are building our research capacity so that we will be able to research organisms that are likely candidates for terrorist use," Johnson said.

West Nile virus, for example, can spread from a mammal to an insect to a human. Foot-and-mouth disease can also disrupt a country's economy and cause a huge crisis by affecting tourism and disrupting food supply.

"Last, we are working to train people in incident-command procedures so that there is a system to put into place whenever a catastrophe occurs," Johnson said.

Even though many towns already have a plan if such an emergency should arise, the training is designed to ensure that people understand how incident command works so they know who has authority to diagnose the problem, dispose of the contamination and, if necessary, evacuate people from the area.

Forum attendees will have the opportunity to learn more about the current national situation and its impact on international issues.

"The forum will help students have a better perspective on security issues. It's a good experience for students to attend as well as the agricultural community," said Milan Rewerts, director of Cooperative Extension at CSU.

The event begins with registration at 7:30 a.m. on Thursday and ends with a Hall of Fame Banquet and Recognition program at 5:30 p.m. Various speeches and breakout sessions will be offered throughout the day.

"All of us have a huge stake in agriculture whether we realize it or not. This will be an interesting forum. It's really exciting to be a part of something now that is going to affect the future," Waskom said.

Johnson said that even if the United States does not experience a bioterrorist attack, this research will not have been done in vain.

"Fortunately all this preparedness has a good peacetime purpose. This was not a wasted investment because it is good for naturally occurring diseases and disasters, too. We're ready," Johnson said.

 Posted by at 5:00 pm

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