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New NSM Aims to Prepare Food Sector for Threats Including CBRN, Pathogens, and Cyber Attacks

Agencies required to develop and implement comprehensive strategic plan as agriculture threatened by "high-consequence and catastrophic incidents."

A new security directive from the White House will require the Department of Homeland Security and other stakeholder agencies to collaboratively develop plans in partnership with the private sector to better protect the food supply from a range of natural and deliberate threats.

President Biden signed National Security Memorandum-16 (NSM-16) Thursday to “identify and assess the threats of greatest consequence” to this critical infrastructure sector, the White House said, citing as recent examples the 2021 ransomware attack on JBS Foods, the highly pathogenic avian influenza that has spread across the United States over the past year, and the Russian invasion of Ukraine that caused grain shortages.

“Federal entities, food and agriculture systems and supply chains are vulnerable to disruption and damage from domestic and global threats,” and  chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear (CBRN) threats “may result in high-consequence and catastrophic incidents affecting the food and agriculture sector” including toxic contaminants, pests and pathogens, pandemics that affect the workforce, climate change, cyber attacks, and “physical effects of nuclear detonations or dispersion of radioactive materials,” the memorandum notes.

“The evolving threat environment requires the sector and its essential workforce to better prepare for and respond to incidents with broad impacts on our national and economic security,” it adds.

Interagency implementation of the memorandum will be coordinated by the Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs, with a progress report due to the president in a year.

Within 60 days and then on an annual basis “or more frequently as warranted,” the attorney general and the secretary of Homeland Security, in coordination with the secretary of Defense and the heads of other relevant agencies, will provide to the secretaries of Agriculture, Commerce, and Health and Human Services “a threat assessment on potential actors and threats, delivery systems, and methods that could be directed against or affect the food and agriculture sector.”

Within 180 days the secretaries of Agriculture and HHS “shall assess the vulnerabilities of the food and agriculture sector to the threats identified” in consultation with the private sector and federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial (SLTT) partners. Vulnerability assessments will be updated when “there are emergent, credible, and actionable threats or events necessitating reassessment” or “agencies determine that it is appropriate to do so, such as when significant changes have been made to assessment-specific food production or processing steps.”

Within a year, the secretary of Homeland Security, in coordination with the attorney general, the secretaries of Agriculture and HHS, and the heads of other relevant agencies are required to produce a comprehensive risk assessment for the food and agriculture sector that is “informed by the threat and vulnerability assessments” required at earlier stages of implementation, “data-driven, sector-specific, and founded on interagency coordination,” “inclusive of CBRN and cyber threats, and in later iterations other threats that may result in high-consequence and catastrophic incidents such as energy disruption, pandemics impacting the food and agriculture sector’s critical infrastructure and essential workforce, catastrophic weather events, and consequences of climate change,” and “prioritized by the highest risks for the food and agriculture sector.”

Then, within 180 days after that risk assessment is finished, Agriculture and HHS will submit a strategic action plan to the president that will “leverage results from the risk assessment, as well as information on security and resilience capabilities, costs, and benefits” and include a risk mitigation analysis that “contains high-level actions for mitigating threats that may result in high-consequence and catastrophic incidents, and a proposed timeline for their completion,” “identifies strategies, capabilities, and areas for research and development (R&D) that prioritize mitigation of the greatest risks,” and “identifies approaches to determine the effectiveness of national risk reduction measures undertaken” including a communication plan for sharing information with public- and private-sector partners along with the general public.

While Agriculture and HHS are the co-Sector Risk Management Agencies (SRMAs) for the food and agriculture sector, the Department of Homeland Security will “provide strategic guidance, promote a national unity of effort, and, in coordination with the Attorney General, the Secretary of Agriculture, the Secretary of Health and Human Services, and the heads of other relevant agencies, integrate food and agriculture sector efforts into the overall effort to promote the security and resilience of the Nation’s critical infrastructure.”

DHS, the State Department, DoD, the Interior Department, the Commerce Department, and other relevant agencies will “provide support domestically and globally to strengthen the security and resilience of the food and agriculture sector and other critical infrastructure sectors,” according to the memorandum.

Relevant departments are tasked developing, maintaining, assessing, enhancing, and encouraging the adoption of “risk-informed and coordinated domestic and global surveillance and monitoring systems that provide early detection, awareness, and warning of CBRN, cyber, and other threats that may result in high-consequence and catastrophic incidents,” “systems that track specific animals, plants, food, and other commodities to inform timely decision support,” and “coordinated nationwide laboratory networks for food, animal, and plant health; environmental response that integrates existing Federal, SLTT, academic, and, as appropriate, private laboratory resources toward adequate surge capacity; standardized diagnostic and reporting protocols, procedures, and mechanisms; and timely information and analysis sharing.”

Agriculture and HHS are tasked with maintaining and enhancing a National Veterinary Stockpile (NVS) “containing sufficient amounts of veterinary countermeasures, including vaccines, diagnostics, and therapeutics, many of which could be deployed within 24 hours to begin to respond to a high‑consequence or catastrophic animal disease outbreak affecting human health or the economy” and a National Plant Disease Recovery System (NPDRS) “capable of responding to a catastrophic plant disease with disease control measures and the use of resistant or tolerant plant material to sustain a reasonable level of production for economically important crops.”

Agencies will also share information on available funding opportunities and tools “to help SLTT and private sector partners prepare for, mitigate against, respond to, and recover from CBRN, cyber, or other threats that may result in high-consequence and catastrophic incidents within the food and agriculture sector.”

DHS and partner agencies will also be tasked with strengthening “interdiction, inspection, and identification of suspect items related to food and agriculture both entering and within the United States” and expanding “development of appropriate screening criteria and laboratory analysis of interdicted items.”

Customs and Border Protection reported in the first quarter of FY 2022 that agricultural enforcement actions were taken in response to 1,148 contaminated imported cargo shipments.

Bridget Johnson
Bridget Johnson is the Managing Editor for Homeland Security Today. A veteran journalist whose news articles and analyses have run in dozens of news outlets across the globe, Bridget first came to Washington to be online editor and a foreign policy writer at The Hill. Previously she was an editorial board member at the Rocky Mountain News and syndicated nation/world news columnist at the Los Angeles Daily News. Bridget is a terrorism analyst and security consultant with a specialty in online open-source extremist propaganda, incitement, recruitment, and training. She hosts and presents in Homeland Security Today law enforcement training webinars studying a range of counterterrorism topics including conspiracy theory extremism, complex coordinated attacks, critical infrastructure attacks, arson terrorism, drone and venue threats, antisemitism and white supremacists, anti-government extremism, and WMD threats. She is a Senior Risk Analyst for Gate 15 and a private investigator. Bridget is an NPR on-air contributor and has contributed to USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, New York Observer, National Review Online, Politico, New York Daily News, The Jerusalem Post, The Hill, Washington Times, RealClearWorld and more, and has myriad television and radio credits including Al-Jazeera, BBC and SiriusXM.

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