Food & Water Defense Group

Why Food and Water Defense?

“Food defense” has become an important subject in the age of global terrorism. In fact, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has designated 16 “critical infrastructure” sectors considered so vital that their incapacitation or destruction would seriously hurt the country, and one of these sectors is food and agriculture.

“The food production, processing and distribution systems, whether wholesale or retail, are potential targets that must be hardened rapidly or eventually suffer the consequences,” says Bob Norton, a veterinary microbiologist who chairs the Auburn University Food Systems Institute’s Food and Water Defense Working Group.

There is a problem, though. The average person assumes the U.S food and water supplies are safe because of government oversight, yet in reality keeping our food and water systems safe depends on individual companies (and municipalities in the case of water) themselves doing a good job. Food companies know their own businesses better than the government could ever hope to, but small- and medium-sized producers and processors need help assessing threats and developing defense plans. Even large companies and municipalities are stretched and therefore may need pragmatic solutions to food and water defense problems. Families, for their part, need help in being ready for disruption of the food and water systems we take for granted.

“We work ‘left of bang’ meaning we are concerned with giving the food industry the best tools, tactics, and protocols (TTPs) to enable proactive detection of threats and threat actors.” – Dr. Robert Norton

Protecting the ones you love, is what we do

This working group focuses very specifically on identifying threats to the U.S. food and water systems and developing detection and mitigation strategies that can be used by corporations, commodities, and utilities. Once threats are identified and mitigation strategies are developed, the working group will disseminate that information to corporations, commodities, utilities, and the general public.

“Threats are not static. They evolve, so the solutions of today might not be appropriate tomorrow,” says Bob Norton, the working group’s chair. “We have to constantly examine the nature of threats, and develop robust and adaptable strategies that can be used to counter the threats we identify.”

Seeking Input

The AUFSI Food and Water Defense Working Group is different from similar organizations because we are more intelligence-oriented. We will be gathering threat data and working closely with the relevant law enforcement and government agencies as well as the Information Sharing and Analysis Centers (ISACs) that are intended to provide a central resource for gathering information on cyber threats to critical infrastructure. The 18 ISACs are supposed to provide “two-way” sharing of information between the public and private sector, and the working group intends to be an advocate for corporations in the food and agriculture sectors to assure their voices are heard.

“We will be seeking a lot of input from industry,” Norton says. “What do they need and want?”

Auburn University has a great deal of experience working with the U.S. Department of Defense, and working group members combine a broad range of experience. One of the working group’s activities will be to create custom threat assessments for companies and utilities in the sector. Information that is not suitable for public distribution will be available only via a “members only” section, and private messaging will be implemented.

“Threats are not static. They evolve, so the solutions of today might not be appropriate tomorrow.” – Dr. Robert Norton


The Food and Water Defense Working Group also will provide advice about “harmonizing” all the food and water defense requirements and regulations coming down from various agencies, as well as advocating with governmental agencies for industries in these sectors. Corporations need an organization that will problem solve and help them navigate, through one-on-one consulting if necessary.

Dealing with the complexity of different federal regulations is a good example of a “wicked” problem, Norton says. “Wicked” problems are different from difficult ones because clear. Solutions might not be apparent, with so many interwoven factors that one solution never really fits or is transitory because the problem has evolved.

Food safety vs. food defense

Food safety and food defense are two side of the same coin, and food defense is one of the key elements in food safety. The difference is that food safety efforts generally focus on unintentional contamination of a food or water source from pathogens and other contaminants, while food defense focuses on intentional contamination by saboteurs, terrorists, or garden-variety criminals out to destroy a company’s brand.



Broadly, food and water defense is the protection of food and water from intentional contamination or adulteration. Threats don’t have to be from foreign terrorists. Threats also may be the result of internal sabotage by a disgruntled employee. Food defense plans by definition must include protection and maintenance of a company’s brand.

An example of intentional contamination that threatened a brand occurred in 1982, when an unknown perpetrator laced Tylenol capsules with cyanide, creating a lethal weapon that caused the agonizing deaths of seven people. In addition to the enormous human tragedy, the “Tylenol brand” was immediately damaged. The damage to the brand could have been permanent but was not, thanks solely to a prompt and effect response by the company.

“Brand is everything in this highly competitive economy, and a company not capable of protecting the consumers of its products is a company likely not long for this world,” Norton says. “Business cannot depend on the government.”


Nor should the threat from foreign terrorists be ignored. ISIS, for example, has broadcast its desire to destroy the U.S. and its people. The group has acquired chemical weapons and appears to be hard at work trying to acquire biological weapons and nuclear material. The world is at risk and the United States is at risk, including our food supply. A terrorist attack on a key food could have a magnification effect, destroying trust in the U.S. food supply.

Domestic terrorism also can’t be dismissed. In an early example of what we now call “bioterrorism,” a religious cult in Oregon contaminated the salad bars and salad dressings at 10 local restaurants with Salmonella. They hoped to incapacitate enough voters that their own candidates would win in a county election. As a result, more than 750 residents fell ill with acute gastroenteritis, with 45 of them hospitalized. Fortunately, the plot was detected and some of the perpetrators were prosecuted.

Detection after the fact is not good enough in the global economy. Food defenses have to be made robust and agile enough to detect bad actors before they have been able to do damage. Food Defense therefore has to become proactive, which is exactly where the Food and Water Defense Working Group is operating.

“We work ‘left of bang,’ meaning we are concerned with giving the food industry the best tools, tactics, and protocols (TTPs) to enable proactive detection of threats and threat actors,” Norton says.

Related Sites

FDA’s Food Defense Site: The Food and Drug Administration’s Food Defense website has extensive information on food defense, including numerous resources and tools, as well as information about upcoming workshops and a mitigation strategies database.

Food Safety Modernization Act: One of the proposed rules in the new Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) will require domestic and foreign facilities to address vulnerable processes in their own operations as a way to prevent acts that could cause large-scale harm.

Food Traceability: FSMA requires the FDA to develop a product tracing plan, giving the agency time to conduct pilot studies.

USDA’s Food Defense Site: USDA’s Food Defense and Emergency Preparedness site offers tools and plans to aid with food defense. The site includes FSIS’ assessment of vulnerabilities in the food supply chain.


Dr. Robert Norton



Dr. Robert A. Norton, PhD, is a professor at Auburn University and currently serves as coordinator of National Security Initiatives in the Auburn University Open Source Intelligence Laboratory and program director of the Futures Laboratory, a collaborative effort between Auburn University, Auburn University at Montgomery and Air University at Maxwell Air Force Base. A long-time consultant to multiple federal agencies and the Department of Defense, Dr. Norton’s research interests include public health/one health, intelligence analysis, chemical and biological weapons defense, medical and technical intelligence, military-related science and technology, biosecurity/biodefense, and veterinary infectious diseases.

Dr. Craig Angle


Craig Angle, PhD, MEd, MEd, is currently the co-director of the Auburn University Canine Performance Sciences Program. Dr. Angle received a double master’s degree in biomechanics and exercise physiology and a PhD in biomechanics from Auburn University. He has authored several publications and has been issued two patents. He has been an investigator on more than 35 funded studies totaling over $11.5 million in research funding and has conducted research for a variety of state, federal, and international agencies. His expertise and research interest are in creating novel applications of detection dogs to detect targets of interest and to increase the overall performance of the working dog.

Dr. Frank Bartol


Frank Bartol, PhD, is associate dean for research and graduate studies in the Auburn University College of Veterinary Medicine.

Capt. Shane Healey


Shane Healey is a captain with the Opelika Police Department. A native of Cleveland, he began working for OPD in 1991 and has worked in patrol, traffic, detectives, and training. He is division commander over the Special Services Division with responsibilities for training, the DARE program, hiring new officers, recruiting, internal affairs, lawsuits, and federal grants. He has done security consulting work for Total Concept Security, including training, installation, and development of alarm systems, controlled access systems, video surveillance, etc. for residential and commercial clients. Capt. Healey attended Southern Union State Community College and Auburn University.

Dr. Ken Macklin

Member / 334-844-4225

Ken Macklin, PhD, is a professor and extension specialist in avian diseases in the Auburn University College of Agriculture Department of Poultry Science. One of his areas of research involves trying to develop methods to control or preferably eliminate Salmonella in poultry production. At Auburn, he has been involved with developing and testing mitigation techniques to prevent bacterial, viral, and protozoal illness in poultry. As an extension specialist it is his responsibility to work with industry in troubleshooting problems and to deliver practical solutions.

Jonathan McConnell


While still in law school at the University of Alabama, Jonathan McConnell founded Meridian Global Consulting LLC, a global maritime security company, in response to the hijacking of the Maersk Alabama by Somali pirates. Before going to law school McConnell was an infantry officer in the Marines, serving two tours of duty in the Middle East, and his company placed Marine veterans, most of whom served with him, onboard merchant vessels as they passed the Somali coast. Meridian has since conducted ground security operations in West Africa, Southeast Asia, and other high-risk areas throughout the world. His legal expertise centers on international law and the international trafficking of arms regulations. McConnell recently challenged longtime U.S. Congressman Richard Shelby for his Senate seat.

Dr. Ken Nusbaum


Kenneth E Nusbaum, DVM, PhD, trained at the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Plum Island Animal Disease Center and worked on bacterial and viral diseases of food animals for 20 years. His later work addressed zoonotic diseases, diseases that are transmissible from animals to people as natural infections or as ag- and bio-terror weapons. Dr Nusbaum worked nationally through the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges to open masters of public health (MPH) opportunities to students at all veterinary colleges in the U.S. and, with CDC colleagues, developed “A Day for Veterinary Students at CDC,” a biennial meeting of about 300 students and faculty. Dr Nusbaum co-authored the articulation agreement to permit Auburn veterinary students entry to the MPH program at UAB. He is now a professor emeritus working with Auburn and USDA on an avian influenza and scrapies sampling laboratory and lectures in Introduction to Public Health sequence.

Dr. Stephanie Ostrowski


Stephanie Ostrowski, DVM, is an associate professor of public health in the Auburn University College of Veterinary Medicine. She teaches classes on environmental health and food safety (from farm to fork).  She is program lead for the DVM + MPH dual degree, and co-coordinates and team-teaches three of the four courses in Auburn’s interdisciplinary undergraduate minor in public health along with Dr. James Wright. Dr. Ostrowski’s clinical academic training includes two residencies at the University of California-Davis, one in herd health and food animal production medicine (1984-87) and a second in food safety (2010-2012), where she evaluated sample submission logistics for rapid threat identification and response for the California dairy industry. In 2010, Dr. Ostrowski retired from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention after 20 years of service, having achieved the rank of captain in the U.S. Public Health Service. During her CDC career, she served as senior emergency response coordinator for the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry and for the National Center for Environmental Health with participation in federal public health emergency preparedness and response for CBRNE (chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, and explosives) as well as natural disaster events. These incidents ranged from anthrax attacks and Twin Towers/9-11, and from hurricanes and tsunamis to the British Foot and Mouth Disease emergency. Dr. Ostrowski’s current research interests include public health/one health, global sustainability of livestock agriculture, food safety and security, toxicology, and veterinary infectious diseases.

Dr. Soren Rodning


Soren Rodning, DVM, MS, DACT, provides statewide food animal agricultural support as an associate professor and Extension veterinarian in the Auburn University Department of Animal Sciences and the Alabama Cooperative Extension System. Current Extension efforts primarily involve promoting herd health and reproductive management for beef cattle, with a minor emphasis on dairy cattle, pigs, goats, sheep, and horses. Dr. Rodning is the coordinator for Alabama’s Beef Quality Assurance and Pork Quality Assurance programs and serves in the Alabama Army National Guard.

Dr. Benjamin Ruddell


Benjamin L. Ruddell, PhD, PE, is an associate professor of engineering at Arizona State University, the president of Ruddell Environmental Consulting, and the director of the National Water-Economy Project (NWEP). NWEP’s mission is to illustrate the role of water in the U.S. economy and society and to apply this information in partnership with governments, NGOs and corporations to create solutions addressing 21st century water scarcity problems. He works with a variety of federal, local, and private partners, and has testified before the Arizona Corporation Commission on urban water and energy policy issues, worked with municipalities and state agencies on water resource policy and management problems, and published on water topics in numerous scientific journals, conferences, and books.

Dr. Manpreet Singh


Manpreet Singh, PhD, is a professor of food science at the University of Georgia-Athens as well as being an extension food safety specialist. His research interests include pre- and post-harvest food safety and the impact of food processing on safety of foods; development and validation of novel intervention strategies to control foodborne pathogens in production and processing environments; application of rapid detection and identification methods for foodborne pathogens; prevalence and persistence of foodborne pathogens in production and processing environments; and stress responses including host-pathogen interactions and survival of foodborne pathogens in foods.

Dr. Paul Waggoner


Paul Waggoner, PhD, is an experimental psychologist/behavior analyst. He is the co-director of the Canine Performance Sciences Program of the College of Veterinary Medicine at Auburn University. Dr. Waggoner has 25 years of experience performing laboratory studies of canine olfaction and field research of applied canine detection capabilities and technology development. Current R&D topics include: fMRI to investigate olfactory perception and other cognitive characteristics in awake, unrestrained dogs; evaluation of detection performance by dogs and dog-handler teams; vigilance and contextual control in detector dog performance; odor detection signatures and stimulus class formation/generalization; automated training, navigation, and monitoring of detector dogs, and; advanced breeding and behavioral development of dogs for performing specialized detection tasks.  He is a co-inventor of Auburn’s patented Vapor Wake® detector dog technology. He is a member of the Sub-committee on Dogs and Sensors of the National Institutes of Standards and Technology (NIST) Organization of Scientific Area Committees (OSAC) and has an active secret security clearance (DoD).

Dr. Greg S. Weaver


Greg Weaver, PhD, is an associate professor in the Department of Sociology, Anthropology and Social Work at Auburn University. He is a former probation officer with the Florida Department of Corrections and currently serves in the reserve unit of the Lee County Sheriff’s Office. In 2010 he completed the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office Academy. He is president of the Homicide Research Working Group and coordinator of criminal justice initiatives for the Auburn University Open Source Intelligence Laboratory. Research and teaching interests include lethal violence, substance use, and research methods.

Dr. Jean Weese


Jean Weese, PhD, RD, is a food scientist, head of the Alabama Cooperative Extension System’s food safety team, and associate director of the Auburn University Food Systems Institute. Her research interests include reducing outbreaks of foodborne illness. She is HACCP-certified in meats, poultry, and seafood, as well as being GAP/GHP- and Better Process Control School-certified. She is the lead for the national extension Food Safety Community of Practice, which is an online community where members of the Cooperative Extension System of the land-grant universities and others can share resources and knowledge, answer questions, and facilitate discussions.

Dr. James Wright


Jim Wright, PhD, is a professor in public health in the Auburn University College of Veterinary Medicine. He received a BS in biology from Virginia Tech in 1971 and a DVM from the University of Georgia in 1974. At Auburn, Dr. Wright has been involved in research on vector-borne disease and pre-harvest food safety. He teaches zoonoses and epidemiology in the professional curriculum and has taught electives in population medicine, disaster medicine, and wildlife diseases. Dr. Wright also teaches courses in the public health minor offered through the College of Veterinary Medicine.