Deliberate Contamination of Foods

In June 2011, British government’s Centre for the Protection of National Infrastructure warned food manufacturers and retailers that “ideologically motivated” groups might seek to contaminate food and drinks sold in the UK with bacteria or toxic chemicals to cause “mass casualties, economic disruption, and widespread panic.” The Centre called on farmers and food processors to increase security at plants and warehouses and to conduct background checks on new employees and visiting contractors. These measures were put in place in part due to two more recent events:

  • In February 2011, a South African farmer allegedly threatened to unleash FMD in Britain. He was said to have believed Britain was responsible for letting Robert Mugabe weaken Zimbabwe’s agricultural sector.

  • In addition, a major British producer of pastries was targeted by an attack where peanuts were introduced into a nut-free product. The factory was shut down for five days and products were recalled to reduce the risk of allergic reactions. Police ruled out accidental causes and the company lost five per cent of its annual sales.”26

Previous incidents of deliberate food contamination by terrorists have been reported.

  • In February 1978, health officials in 18 countries received notice that “oppressed Palestinian workers” had injected liquid mercury into Jaffa oranges, one of Israel’s main export crops. In a letter to the West German government, a group calling itself the Arab Revolutionary Army-Palestine Command claimed it had adulterated the fruit and added, “Our aim is not indiscriminately to kill your population but to sabotage the Israeli economy.” Mercury-tainted oranges were later found in the Netherlands, West Germany, France, Sweden, and the United Kingdom.

  • In 1984, a new-age cult called the Rajneeshees, living on an ashram in the Oregon town of The Dalles, came into conflict with county officials over land-use issues. In a test run of a scheme to influence a local county election by making local residents too sick to vote, members of the cult deliberately contaminated salad bars at ten local restaurants with cultures of salmonella bacteria, grown from a strain obtained by the cult’s medical clinic. As a result, 751 people fell ill with food poisoning, some seriously, although none died.27

  • On March 2, 1989, an employee of the U.S. Public Health Inspection Service received a telephone call from a left-wing Chilean group opposed to the military dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet, informing him that grapes being imported from Chile to the United States had been injected with cyanide. A phone call to the U.S. Embassy in Santiago confirmed that the threat was not a hoax. FDA investigators opened thousands of boxes of Chilean fruit and ultimately found two grapes containing small amounts of cyanide.28