Keeping our food safe was Sutton man’s career

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copyright the Chronicle May 31, 2017


by Tena Starr


This country frets about terrorism a lot. But one of its more potentially effective, if less splashy, forms — attacking the food supply — has occurred with surprising infrequency.

Hank Parker, an agroterrorism specialist who has retired to Sutton, is among those who have played a part in that.

Mr. Parker is a scientist, and one of the things he’s spent his long and unusual career thinking about is the safety of U.S. agriculture and food. He was a fellow at the National Defense University, where he wrote a treatise on what the federal government could do to protect American agriculture and the food supply. He’s been acting director for homeland security for the U.S. Department of Food and Agriculture (USDA). And in retirement he teaches a graduate level class in agroterrorism at Georgetown University.

Before September 11, 2001, he said in a recent interview, the U.S. food system was highly vulnerable — and in many ways still is. But back then agriculture wasn’t even considered a critical infrastructure, he said.

Yes, there were people in the federal government who recognized the potential threat, but it took the September 11 attacks to improve coordination of security in general. There was also a more serious effort to make sure that Americans don’t have to worry about eating, at least not because of terrorists.

Mr. Parker’s career has not run in a straight line. He started out in biological oceanography, specializing in aquaculture. Basically, that’s fish farming. The USDA hired him as coordinator of its aquaculture program in 1992, and over time, he got involved in research programs.

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