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Food could be a threat to U.S.

When people sit down for a meal, the last thing on their minds is that the food they are eating could kill them. But in today’s world, filled with discussion about germ and chemical warfare, there may be a real possibility of deadly food contamination.

It is this threat that environmental health expert Richard Lee studies and will speak on today at USF. The lecture, “Food as a Bioterrorist Weapon,” will be held at the College of Public Health Auditorium at 4 p.m.

Lee said he hopes to teach about how food supplies may be affected by terrorism.

“(I want to) help educate people in public health,” Lee said. “The reason for this talk is to help public health workers get an idea of where the food supply is vulnerable.”

Lee said terrorism by food contamination, while not probable, could be a possible threat.

“If I were a terrorist that wanted to make Clearwater afraid, I’d probably go to one of the schools and put something in the milk that would make them all sick,” Lee said. “It’s that kind of thing that would be a target.”

Lee said the use of food contamination would not be enough to bring a city such as Tampa to a standstill. He said, however, that food can be an effective weapon for terrorists.

“Food can be used strategically,” he said. “The issue would be not so much to kill people but to make them afraid.”

Lee said his lecture will be directed toward first responders – paramedics, doctors and nurses who are first to treat a new patient. He said he wants to teach these groups how to determine if a food contamination incident is a terrorist act.

Lee said while he wants to teach people about the signs surrounding food contamination, it’s a difficult form of terrorism to prevent.

“There isn’t a lot you can do in the sense of the word,” Lee said. “It’s hard to prevent. It’s not a serious threat, but it’s a real threat.”

Lee said USF is an important location for a lecture such as his because USF is home to Environmental Health and Safety and a public health department that has received a grant from the Center for Disease Control.

Lee is a professor at the University of Buffalo, and he has had past links to USF. Lee and USF professor Raymond Harbison have collaborated on a number of studies and papers.

Involved in some of these studies were the ideas of disease and contamination. The two men have also studied nutritional substances.

Harbison said the idea of food contamination as an act of terrorism is not unprecedented in the United States.

“It absolutely happened in Oregon about a year ago,” Harbison said.

Harbison said during the Oregon incident a political group poisoned a restaurant salad bar, causing several people to become ill. The event provides a real-world example of the theories which Lee will discuss.

  • Contact Rob Brannonat