Concern over Hunts Point security

February 4, 2009 6:12:36 PM PST
Most of our produce comes to us via one massive market in the Bronx. If you ate fruit or vegetables today, chances are it came through Hunts Point Cooperative Market.

"It is the largest fruit and vegetable distributor in the world," Matthew D'Arrigo said.

If for any reason that market shuts down, empty store shelves would appear in days.

What has the government done to prevent that? Absolutely nothing.

"Just the thought of shutting this market down is very scary," said Myra Gordon of Hunts Point.

The 51 food retailers at Hunts Point worry that the market lacks the level of protection equal to its importance as the world's largest food distributor.

"If that supply were disrupted you would see shortages of fresh fruits and vegetables within a day and then massive shortages in about 3 or 4 days," D'Arrigo said.

Hunts Point merchants may have reason to be concerned. Last year, the Department of Homeland Security's Office of Inspector General stated that "terrorist attacks on the food supply are increasingly likely." Yet the market has not received a dime in Homeland Security funding:

"There is no money forthcoming. Whatever we have done here to protect the food supply and the employee and the employer has literally come out of the pocket of the merchants," Gordon said.

Tired of waiting for help, the merchants started their own emergency preparedness training.

They purchased mobile scooters to help security better patrol the miles of corridors inside the market.

The merchants also fund their own police force, which does its best to inspect some one-thousand trucks that enter the market each day.

Charles Slepian, founder of the Forseeable Risk Analysis Center, has spent months studying the security needs at the market. His conclusion is that despite millions spent by the merchants, the food supply remains vulnerable:

There's really been no attention to the nation's food supply. You shutdown this market, food would not flow in or out period. We need to pay attention to that," he said.

The Department of Homeland Security has given tens of millions to big oil for security fencing and cameras around their refineries.

Small towns in Wyoming and other remote areas have received hundreds of millions for anti-terrorism gear they're likely to never use.

Yet, nothing for the produce market that feeds a nation.

"If something were to hit us and this market had to close because of the perishable nature of the food, it would fly off the shelves of the city," Gordon said.

The state gave $144-million dollars in security grants to New York City this year, but for the seventh year in a row, the world's largest market didn't get a penny. Yet, the governor's office insists that Hunts Point is "on their radar."

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