Monthly agribusiness breakfast focuses on food safety

April 28, 2014
by Candace Harrell, Richland Source

Braintree Business Development Center hosted its monthly Agribusiness breakfast Friday at the Der Dutchman restaurant in Bellville. The topic this month was “Centralized Operational Web-based-technologies Promoting Animal Traceability and Health” (COWPATH), featuring speaker Donald Sanders, entrepreneur, consultant, and United States Air Force (USAF) veteran.

COWPATH represents a collaborative effort between The Ohio State University College of Veterinary Medicine, the United States Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL), and the Ohio Department of Agriculture (ODA).

COWPATH, a form of biosurveillance, utilizes layered sensing techniques developed at the AFRL to create a program that offers real time situational awareness and traceability for Ohio’s livestock populations.

Layered sensing* technology was developed by the AFRL for military applications.

Sanders discussed the similarities between the agricultural and military sections, noting that it is agriculture’s mission to protect the food supply, just as the military tries to protect its “war fighters."

“It’s the same thing,” he said. “What we’re talking about is the health and safety and welfare, not only from a food production standpoint, but the health and welfare and safety of human beings.”

The goal of the COWPATH program is to rapidly find and quarantine tainted or ill livestock. Sanders noted that, in the case of animal to human contagion, a person could spread the infection widely in a short time. “How many people do you come into contact with in 72 hours?” he asked attendees.

Sanders said that agriculture is the nation’s largest industry, representing a symbol of national power and a target for terrorism. Animal agriculture is the largest section and that it would be “an attractive conquest of mind and ideas through the intentional introduction of a highly contagious disease,” as quoted from his PowerPoint presentation.

“We did a scenario with corridor I-70 from out of Maryland, and we just took Interstate 70 all the way to California. Really, in 36 hours, a terrorist could infect animals with foot and mouth disease and it would devastate, just devastate, a 100 billion dollar industry,” Sanders added.

The ability to connect veterinarians, in the case of a livestock disease, with those that could effectively diagnose, quarantine and eradicate the contagion, was something Sanders addressed, noting that cell phone technology was a major asset. “It takes time to gather information and to drive that information to key leaders to make that decision,” said Sanders. With military application, he said, the process could be simplified into three steps: real time information; response command and control; and verification via “push-pull technologies”.

In reference to Agro-Terrorism, Sanders’ presentation quoted a United States Government Accountability Office (GAO) report that stated that, due to the rapid and constant movement of people and commodities, biological agents can be carried by passengers or containers and slip across the national borders.

Additionally, it was noted in his presentation that zoonotic diseases represent at least 65 percent of newly emerging and reemerging infectious diseases in recent decades.

Sanders pointed out that the technology to combat food borne illnesses, both intentional and situational, is either in use in the military sector, or is up and coming in the technology industry.

An example Sanders mentioned of possible technology was the combination of a disease or bacteria detecting radio frequency identification (RFID) chip and a cell phone application that would read the chip to let consumers know if a product was contaminated.

“These are all futuristic,” he said, “If we look at technology and how fast it’s growing and how fast it’s manipulating, we’re right on top of it.”

“There are technologies in place I think that could be implemented now, and there could be some future technologies that could be innovated to address certain problems that people are having. Every problem is a little bit different based on their part in the food process.”

COWPATH has not, at this point, been implemented according to Sanders. He noted that consumer and producer education is necessary, and regulatory measures must be taken, before such a program could be launched.

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