Safeguarding U.S. agriculture is aim of Penn State program

August 25, 2010

University Park, Pa. — At a time when two of the nation’s largest egg producers have issued a 550 million egg recall because of reports of potential salmonella contamination, it is clear that the issue of vulnerability in America’s agricultural and food production systems remains a vital concern. Salmonella bacteria, like other human disease-causing organisms, can cause physical harm and death, as well as economic devastation. Safeguarding the nation’s agriculture and environment from natural and intentional threats is the goal of Penn State’s new online agricultural biosecurity education program.

“Agricultural biosecurity is an old problem,” said Penn State associate professor of plant pathology Gretchen Kuldau. “We’ve been battling invasive species since the beginning of agriculture.” Kuldau is lead faculty member for the agricultural biosecurity option of the new master of professional studies in homeland security, offered by multiple Penn State academic units and delivered online by World Campus. “There are all kinds of threats to agriculture that occur naturally or by the actions of people that cause illnesses or damage crops. Invasive species show up all the time, but most are not serious threats," she said.

In her course in the program, Catherine Cutter, associate professor of food science, focuses on food defense plans and applications in the food industry to prevent intentional contamination of food. She pointed out that “since Sept. 11, we have had no major issues with food contamination. This is a testament to our agricultural and food industries, which are working hard to develop plans to minimize contamination risks.”

Threats to America’s biosecurity also extend to food animals. According to Walter McVey, senior program manager for Veterinary and Biomedical Sciences and instructor for the course on animal infections and disease surveillance, “The biggest threat to U.S. agriculture is the introduction of foreign animal diseases, such as Foot-and-Mouth Disease. It’s impossible to secure every farm, so having an infectious disease surveillance system and network in place is key for early detection of diseases, which can cause billions of dollars in economic damage.”

Agricultural Biosecurity student Joe Smith, a large-animal veterinarian with Albion Animal Clinic in Albion, Pa., saw Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD) firsthand in Brazil when he was a veterinary student. If FMD were introduced in the United States, he said, “It would be devastating, because there are more animals concentrated in small areas, increasing the risk of exposure.”

The Agricultural Biosecurity option is one of five in the online Master of Professional Studies in Homeland Security program. It will provide students with foundational knowledge about plant, animal and food security issues, surveillance systems for infectious diseases, diagnostic and sensor technologies, disease-predictive models, protection and mitigation approaches and microbial forensic capabilities.

For information about the master’s degree and the Agricultural and Biosecurity option, visit or call 800-252-3592.

Penn State World Campus specializes in adult online education, delivering more than 60 of Penn State’s most highly regarded graduate, undergraduate and professional education programs through convenient online formats. Founded in 1998, Penn State World Campus is the University’s 25th campus serving more than 9,600 students in all 50 states and 62 countries. For more information, visit online. Penn State World Campus is part of Penn State Outreach, the largest unified outreach organization in American higher education. Penn State Outreach serves more than 5 million people each year, delivering more than 2,000 programs to people in all 67 Pennsylvania counties, all 50 states and 114 countries worldwide.

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Last Updated November 18, 2010