All the king's horses: eggs as terror weapons

An egg is just an egg, one thinks — scramble 'em, fry 'em, boil 'em, chop 'em up in tuna salad, make 'em into omelets, hide 'em for the kiddies at Eastertime, or with enough beers and idle time, try to stand 'em on end.

Or if you're really adventurous, toss 'em (preferably well-rotted) at politicians.

How much more simple, innocuous a product can there be, you may ask.

In which event you likely, as I, were not aware that the Department of Homeland Security is said to have deemed eggs one of the five most likely targets for agro-terrorism. So now we've got worry that glomming down an Egg McMuffin could cause a world of hurt should some evildoer have contaminated the hen fruit with botulism.

Fear not! A Massachusetts company, claiming to be the first in the nation to enact a new “Egg Safety Plan,” is now marketing eggs that are laser-etched with freshness and traceability codes on each eggshell. The codes, they say, will allow government officials and consumers to trace an individual egg back to its farm source.

The Born Free brand eggs are packed in clear cartons that offer a full view of the product and let the purchaser check for broken eggs. And of course they're “all natural,” with no antibiotics or artificial hormones, and are available in several varieties: certified USDA organic, cage-free from free-roaming hens in an all-natural environment, vegetarian-fed, and Omega 3, containing at least 200 mg of Omega 3 fatty acids and 75 mg of DHA.

They're being sold at 1,000 stores along the East Coast, with plans for national expansion.

Tongue-in-cheekish though one's reaction may be to the thought of laser-etched eggs, the Department of Homeland Security and the USDA are, we're told, taking very seriously the threat of agro-terrorism and the potential for use of biological agents to destroy crops, sicken livestock, and contaminate the food supply.

Milk, another of those simple, innocuous staples of everyday life, could also be a major target for the bad guys. Surreptitiously slip less than an ounce of botulism into a tank at a processing plant and potentially 400,000 or more people could be sickened or die. A report by Stanford University researchers on weaknesses in the nation's milk supply was considered so sensitive its publication was suppressed for weeks, although it eventually became public.

From ancient Rome to Sherman's march through the South to World Wars I and II, destroying or poisoning an opponent's food supply has been an oft-used tactic. The devastation of crops and farms by Sherman is considered epic in modern warfare.

There is former Secretary of Health and Human Services Tommy Thompson's infamous quote last year, “For the life of me, I cannot understand why the terrorists have not attacked our food supply, because it is so easy to do.”

But despite the billions being poured into thwarting terrorism on a myriad of fronts, including agriculture and the food supply, many doubts and concerns exist about the ability of government and/or the health care/emergency management system to cope with a widespread catastrophic event. Hurricane Katrina being a prime example.

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