Review of the Annual Threat Assessment of the US Intelligence Community – Food Concerns

There are many sources for food threat assessments, including the US Office of the Director of National Intelligence. This is a summary of their Annual Threat Assessment, with a focus on food products and the role of the food industry. This is a valuable data point for food fraud and food defense.

In April, 2021, the United States Office of the Director of National Intelligence published the Annual Threat Assessment of the US Intelligence Community.  The key statements are (separated by topic):

  • “In the coming year (2021), the United States and its allies will face a diverse array of threats that…
    • are playing out amidst the global disruption resulting from the COVID-19 [coronavirus disease 2019] pandemic and
    • against the backdrop of great power competition,
    • the disruptive effects of ecological degradation and a changing climate, an
    • increasing number of empowered non-state actors, and
    • rapidly evolving technology (communication and research technology as well as cyber threats).”

The major focus of the report is on nation-states (China, Russia, Iran and North Korea) and regional instability (Afghanistan, India-Pakistan, Middle East, Asia, Latin America, and Africa.)

The report emphasizes that these threats are not autonomous and could compound to create bigger or more complex problems.

  • “The complexity of the threats, their intersections, and the potential for cascading events in an increasingly interconnected and mobile world create new challenges for the IC [intelligence community]. Ecological and climate changes, for example, are connected to public health risks, humanitarian concerns, social and political instability, and geopolitical rivalry.”

Product or industry targeted issues are covered under “Transnational Issues.” Several issues specifically mention food, with a focus on food security:

  • COVID-19 Pandemic and Diseases:
    • “We expect COVID-19 to remain a threat to populations worldwide until vaccines and therapeutics are widely distributed.”
    • “The economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic, along with conflict and weather extremes, has driven food insecurity worldwide to its highest point in more than a decade, which increases the risk of instability. The number of people experiencing high levels of acute food insecurity doubled from 135 million in 2019 to about 270 million last year, and is projected to rise to 330 million by yearend.”
  • Climate Change and Environmental Degradation: “The degradation and depletion of soil, water, and biodiversity resources almost certainly will threaten infrastructure, health, water, food, and security, especially in many developing countries that lack the capacity to adapt quickly to change, and increase the potential for conflict over competition for scarce natural resources.”

Although not specifically defined for food products, the networks and activities do apply to the other product supply chains. Illicit drugs fall under the product fraud topic.

  • Foreign Illicit Drugs and Organized Crime: “We expect the threat from transnational organized crime networks supplying potent illicit drugs, which annually kill tens of thousands of Americans, to remain at a critical level. The pandemic has created some challenges for traffickers, mainly due to restrictions on movement, but they have proven highly adaptable, and lethal overdoses have increased.”

While the food industry has focused on food protection and food safety (providing safe food), there is a broader intelligence community focus more generally on food security (providing enough food). The focus and concerns of the intelligence community are important to understand when considering the priority-setting of government resources. Food protection and food safety have critical roles in support of global food security, especially in the regions of concern. This report is a good resource as a reference point for food companies when conducting threat assessments and when determining how to position projects when working with governments. Thanks, JWS.


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