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U of M survey finds consumers willing to pay more to protect against terrorism

March 22, 2006

The Food Industry Center at the University of Minnesota today announced results from a national survey that indicates the public is willing to spend more money than is currently allocated to prevent future terrorist attacks. The survey also found that nearly 98 percent of U.S. residents believe there will be another terrorist attack in their lifetime and that more than one-half believe at least one attack will occur within the next five years. The survey, which polled 4,200 respondents, was funded by the National Center for Food Protection and Defense, a Department of Homeland Security Academic Center of Excellence.

U.S. residents believe a subway or railway bombing is the most likely terrorist activity, with 84 percent expecting such an attack within the next four years. While deliberate contamination of the food system was considered the least likely of the potential terrorist attacks covered, still 44 percent of U.S. residents expect an attack on the food supply chain within the next four years. About one-half of those surveyed expect terrorists to hijack another aircraft, destroy a national monument, disrupt the power grid, or release a toxic biologic or chemical agent in a public place.

"These results show the American public expects their food supply to be well protected," says Jean Kinsey, Ph.D., co-director of the University of Minnesota's Food Industry Center.

"The survey findings are sobering, even if we adjust for the fact that public concerns may have been heightened following the London subway bombings," says Tom Stinson, Ph.D., associate professor of applied economics. "Even when possible attacks on trains or subways are excluded, more than 80 percent expected at least one more terrorist attack in their lifetime and 55 percent believe that at least one of each type of incident would occur."

While the food supply chain is thought to be the least likely potential target, U.S. residents believe that a greater percentage of anti-terrorist spending should go to protect the food supply than to protect against any of the other types of terrorism included in the survey. Protecting against the release of a chemical or biological agent in a public area was also viewed as a high priority area.

"These results show the American public expects their food supply to be well protected," says Jean Kinsey, Ph.D., co-director of the University of Minnesota's Food Industry Center. "The food industry has worked hard to keep accidental contaminants from entering the food supply chain. Consumers obviously expect the same kind of effort to be made to protect against deliberate contamination."

U.S. residents believe anti-terrorism spending should be allocated in the following percentages:

Current federal spending emphasizes securing the airways with more than $5 billion being spent on that task. Substantially smaller amounts are devoted to securing other potential targets against attack.

"The percentage differences are small, but they amount to real money," notes Stinson. "Assuming that what we currently spend on airline security is right, the public thinks we should be spending more than $5.5 billion to protect the food supply chain, and another $5.5 billion to protect against a chemical or biological attack. Federal spending today to protect against terrorism in those two key areas is nowhere near that amount."