Contextual factors among indiscriminate or larger attacks on food or water supplies, 1946-2015

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This research updates previous inventories of malicious attacks on food and water to include data from 1946 through mid-2015. A systematic search of news reports, databases and previous inventories of poisoning events was undertaken. Incidents that threatened or were intended to achieve direct harm to humans, and that were either relatively large (number of victims > 4 or indiscriminate in intent or realisation were included. Agents could be chemical, biological or radio-nuclear. Reports of candidate incidents were subjected to systematic inclusion and exclusion criteria as well as validity analysis (not always clearly undertaken in previous inventories of such attacks). We summarise contextual aspects of the attacks that may be important for scenario prioritisation, modelling and defensive preparedness. Opportunity is key to most realised attacks, particularly access to dangerous agents. The most common motives and relative success rate in causing harm were very different between food and water attacks. The likelihood that people were made ill or died also varied by food/water mode, and according to motive and opportunity for delivery of the hazardous agent. Deaths and illness associated with attacks during food manufacture and prior to sale have been fewer than those in some other contexts. Valuable opportunities for food defence improvements are identified in other contexts, especially food prepared in private or community settings.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)19-28
Number of pages10
JournalHealth Security
Issue number1
Early online date18 Feb 2016
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2016

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