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Fairy Tales and Magical Thinking Mask Truth About Food in Y2K


From Larry Shook
Food Supply Update: April 24, 1999

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Fairy Tales and Magical Thinking Mask Truth About Food in Y2K
Copyright, 1999, by Geri Guidetti
The Ark Institute
PO Box 142, Oxford, OH 45056


"You have always had the power to go back to Kansas, Dorothy" said Glinda, the Good Witch, to the melancholy young girl stuck in the Land of Oz. "All you have to do is look inside yourself and believe you can. Just click your heels three times and repeat, 'There's no place like home, there's no place like home.' "

Dorothy wanted to believe Glinda--she wanted so much to believe--because she wanted so much to go home. "There's no place like home...There's no place like home...There's no place like home," Dorothy faithfully repeated. With eyes tightly closed, she clicked the heels of the ruby slippers until --whoosh!--she was magically transported back to Kansas, Auntie Em and apple pie. Life was, once again, normal. Life was good, and all she had to do to make it so was to believe it would be. *

After reading and listening to the scant, yet almost universally positive, media coverage of Y2K since bombs were first dropped on Yugoslavia and, after receiving calls from customers and friends telling me that their friends and co-workers told them they had heard and believed there is no need to worry about the food supply in Y2K, I can't help but think that we Americans may have seen just one too many reruns of The Wizard of Oz for our own good. We believe in magic! Close your eyes, click your heels together and repeat after Dan Glickman, Secretary ,U.S. Department of Agriculture, "Food will be there. Food will be there. Food will be there." If we believe it, it will happen because Glinda--uh--Dan said so. Woosh! Life is still good. Would you pass the apple pie, please?

Do you believe in fairy tales? In magic? Do you still accept and believe things that adults in authority tell you--without question? Here's a quiz you can take to discover a predisposition to "magical thinking" with respect to Y2K information and the need for personal preparedness. Share it with friends and coworkers; compare your analysis with theirs, with mine, with those quoted in the quiz. Then make personal decisions based on your findings.

The Quiz Introduction: The Food Supply of any modern, industrialized culture is now completely dependent upon the daily, successful integration of complex technologies and resources. In our current system, we could not eat without: technology intensive production, processing and delivery of foreign oil, domestic and foreign seeds and crops; international banking; air, land and sea transportation; nearly flawless electrical service; enormous amounts of clean water; petroleum based fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides. In view of this reality, classify each of the following quotes or reports relating directly or indirectly to Food Supply as: Fact (F), Fairy Tale (FT), Fantasy (FY) or Magic (M) Personal comments will appear in brackets [ ].

A. Food Processors and distributors are "making satisfactory preparations and should be well prepared to sustain operations despite any interruptions caused by the century date change." Source: The Gartner Group, the most widely quoted Y2K consulting firm in the world, Feb. '99. [Despite ANY interruptions? Really! Electric power outages, gas and diesel shortages, even no water? Analysis: Magical Thinking (MT). What does "sustain operations" really mean? Food for all? Some food for some? One register open? Read on...]

B. "I'm the manager of a grocery and drug combination store which is part of one of the top five grocery chains in the country...Each week we strive to satisfy over 50,000 customers...In any typical week, we're out of stock on somewhere around 2% of the SKUs...By 12/1/1999, I would expect that figure to rise to 40%. By the end of the month, I would not be surprised to see out-of-stocks at 75%...On 01/01/2000, we will be at the mercy of our electricity and telecommunications providers. Should the electricity fail, our backup generators should last us around six hours. During that time, power is routed to only the registers, the pharmacy computer system and a few lights...Freezers are down, HVAC is down...After six hours we are completely in the dark...The registers would be completely useless...Not a pretty picture. In all honesty, I would lock the doors. So would my competitor down the street...So would everyone else in town, from the 7-11 to Wal-Mart...I would love to be the hero and keep my store open and feed everyone who needs food. I like selling food. ...Quite frankly, at this point, such a task seems improbable..." Source: Anonymous Grocer's letter posted at [Analysis: This guy's got a grip on reality. Fact (F)]

C. "The state of readiness within the food industry is encouraging." Source: Dan Glickman, Feb. '99, in testimony before the Senate Special Committee on the Year 2000 Computer Technology Problem.[If Mr. Glickman is looking only "within" the food industry, he is understandably misled by his narrow perspective. If he has considered the whole oil-to-fork food picture, including undiscovered embedded chips, he must fantasize (FY) about the magical (M) Y2K silver bullet. What does the food industry say? Read on....]

D. "In conclusion, we are confident about our own internal processes and preparations for the century date change. However....because of the vast number of business systems used by Kraft Foods, the significant number of key business partners, and other factors, we may experience some disruption in our business due to the Y2K issue. Possible consequences for the Company or key business partners not being fully Y2K compliant by January 1, 2000, include, among other things, temporary plant closings, delays in the delivery of products, delays in the receipt of supplies, invoice and collection errors, and inventory and supply obsolescence. Consequently, our business and the results of our operations could be materially adversely affected by a temporary inability to conduct our business in the ordinary course for a period of time after January 1, 2000. However, Kraft Foods believes that its Y2K readiness program, including the contingency planning discussed ...should significantly reduce the adverse effect..." Testimony of James R. Kinney, Senior Vice President of Information Systems, Kraft Foods, Inc., presented to the United States Senate Special Committee on the Year 2000 Technology Problem. [His whole testimony sounded credible, based on fact (F). If food supply was dependent only on Kraft's internal compliance efforts, we might get away with a few bumps and bruises. It isn't....we won't.]

E. "There is no need to stockpile...interruptions in food supplies are unlikely. If there are interruptions, USDA will work with FEMA to deliver food to Americans." Source: Dan Glickman, Secretary, USDA. Quote appeared in The Cincinnati Enquirer. [Does he REALLY believe USDA and FEMA can deliver food to any number of communities, any number of people in the U.S.? Where would they deliver it? To individual homes? To community shelters? Suppose there are a thousand shelters? Ten thousand? Is the USDA even capable of such a task in view of the condition of its own Y2K readiness? Read on.....]

F. "Sen. Luger noted that as of May 14 last year the Department of Agriculture has fixed and tested 40% of its mission critical systems. By January 1999, the number of systems fixed was 71%, however, the number of mission critical systems had been slashed by two-thirds, lowering the final total from 1,080 systems to 354, Luger said. 'I queried the Secretary (Glickman) and he and I agreed it is a source of considerable stress as to trying to figure out what is critical,' said Luger. 'I am concerned that some systems being removed from the mission critical category might indeed be vital to the USDA's operations and might impair the department's ability to serve the nation....'" Writer: Charlie Register, Columnist at [Analysis: "Doc, I'm still shot up real bad! Both arms, both legs, my belly....Can't you fix more than just 40% of me? More than my belly and this thigh?" "Yup, I can," said the Doc. " I can cut off both of your damaged arms and your other leg, and then I'll have fixed 71% of you! After all, only your trunk and head are really mission critical." Ah, the Magic (M) of creative math and impressive sound bites! And does the Secretary know what the President's Council is saying about FEMA coming to the rescue?...]

G. The U.S. government anticipates "a large series of mild to moderate disruptions across the country.... These are situations that in usual times you might be able to call on the state or the federal government to help solve, but we are stressing to our local officials that they're going to have to take care of these problems on their own." Source: Janet Abrams, Executive Director of the President's Council on Year 2000 Conversion, at a conference, Dec. 17, 1998. [Does ANYONE in the federal government really know what the government is going to do in the event of food shortages? Really KNOW? No fantasies. No fairy tales. No magic. Really KNOW? Knowledge and action will prevent panic and reaction, save lives. Really, Dan, John, Janet, Bill, et al, really.]

H. "First, we want to assure you and the public that the food industry will be ready when the date January 1 in the year 2000 arrives.... Second, there are Y2K issues beyond the control of our industry; for those we need government's help. Specifically, we need government's help to maintain our nation's power, water, natural gas and communications grids so that we can process and transport food products and provide the refrigeration necessary to safeguard our food. " Source: Tim Hammonds, President and CEO of the Food Marketing Institute whose members operate more than half of the food stores in the US. Testimony before the Senate Special Committee on Year 2000 and Food Supply. [Sounds like, "We're all okay IF the government makes everything else okay.. If there are food problems, it won't be our fault. Blame the government." Fact and Fantasy . And how IS water and electric power coming along?.....]

I. Headline: "Federal Government Nears Completion of Y2K Work on Mission-Critical Systems........92 Percent of Systems Meet the March 31 Government-wide Goal for Y2K Compliance...' The Federal Government will be ready for the Year 2000,' said Koskinen, Chair of the President's Council on Year 2000 Conversion. 'The fact that over 90 percent of critical systems are Y2K compliant a full nine months before the end of the year is a tribute to the thousands of dedicated and skilled Federal employees who have been working to ensure that Government operations and services function normally through the date change.' " Press Release, March 31, 1999, by the President's Council on Year 2000 Conversion [We'll hold you to it, Mr. Koskinen. Federal agencies slash one-third to two-thirds of their systems from their mission critical lists, puffing up percentages of compliance, and you are ensuring that Government services will "function normally?" If this is fact, not fantasy, why have we paying for all of these unnecessary systems and employees? I suppose we can expect a huge reduction in payroll in the next few months, especially after all of those computer code repair consultants go home, right?]

J. "The President's Council on Year 2000 Conversion intends a series of summer meetings with local governments. For example, no central authority is inspecting the 170,000 water districts in the USA for Y2K compliance." USA Today, April 22, 1999. [Mr. Koskinen, the human body can only live about three days without water. You're planning MEETINGS this summer? You mean the most critical component to human survival * water * is not part of the "over 90% of critical systems.." that are Y2K compliant? You need to tell Dan Glickman that the food processors might not have enough water to wash off those millions of pounds of beans and peaches, or clean those beef carcasses. You need to tell the Gartner Group and the President and the SEC that without a full gallon of safe drinking water for every person, in every community, every day , that the supermarket, the stock market, the global markets mean nothing * -nothing. This is not the time for math magic or fantasy, Mr. Koskinen. It is time for nothing less than an all out war on non-compliant systems in every water utility and sewage treatment facility in America. This includes those scary embedded chips. In the meantime, please tell people the truth about water NOW. It's spring. It's raining. People can store water. There's still time.]

K. "More than thirty million people in the United States are likely to be without water after January 2000. Nearly two-thirds of those affected will be in the big cities. This bleak assessment was delivered during an American-Canadian meeting held on February 22, 1999 to discuss 'Cross-Border Y2K Issues.' ..The minutes of the joint meeting indicate that John Koskinen, Chair of the President's Council on Y2K Conversion, 'admitted that water is...problematic.' ...The water situation for small and medium communities is even more grim. Nearly one fourth (23%) of the 51,000 such systems are not expected to achieve Y2K compliance in time according to information released at the joint American-Canadian conference....The prospect of thirty million people without water is mind numbing. Can it be imagined for a moment that the Red Cross and FEMA are capable of managing and event of this overwhelming magnitude?" Jim Lord, author of A Survival Guide For the Year 2000 Problem. Columnist at [Need I say more?]

L. "There are more than 3,000 electric power companies in the United States and Canada. By January 1999, over 98 percent of the industry were participating in Y2K readiness surveys. The industry has established a June 30, 1999, target date for overall Y2K readiness. As of February 1999, bulk electric system entities reported that 64 percent of mission-critical systems were Y2K ready. As of December 1998, distribution entities reported that 56 percent of mission-critical systems were Y2K ready." Source: The President's Council on Year 2000 Conversion, latest report, April 21, 1999. ["over 98 percent....participating in Y2K readiness SURVEYS?" Is this statistic designed to comfort the casual or "I wanna believe..." reader? It took electric power companies how many years to get to 64 percent and 56 percent compliance in mission critical systems? And we have eight MONTHS to go? Mr. Koskinen, are these numbers cause for alarm, or should we believe that all power companies, large and small, are capable of magic? Please read what the GAO (General Accounting Office) said about the same electric power utilities four days before your report was released.....]

M. "The nation's electric power utilities have completed only 44 percent of Year 2000-related preparedness and testing, giving rise to concerns about the possibility of widespread power failures as the new year approaches, according to a government report. The General Accounting Office (GAO) also reported that 46 of the participating organizations said they don't expect to be Y2K ready by the industry's June target date. Furthermore, 76 percent of those organizations said they don't expect to be Y2K-compliant until the fourth quarter of 1999....Because power utilities are dependent on embedded computer control systems--that is, chips that are built into a computer's architecture and can't be replaced with different chips--the industry is particularly susceptible to Y2K-related failures. 'All phases of operations in the electric power industry, from generation to distribution, use control systems and equipment that are subject to Year 2000 failures,' the GAO report said. 'The industry's analysis of its embedded systems has shown that the Year 2000 problem places the nation's electric power systems at risk.' " GAO's report at and, April 17, 1999 [This federal government entity deserves recognition for its apparent honesty and presentation of results, progress and remaining risks to the public. The bottom line is simple: whether regional or national, no power means no water, means no food, means no heat, means no life as we know it, for any and all who are unprepared. There is no magic to fix it. Fantasizing won't help either. It will be inconvenient, bumpy, dangerous, catastrophic or all of these. It all depends on where you are, who you're with, how bad it is, how long it lasts and in what kind of weather it occurs. How it turns out depends on the level of personal preparedness.]

N. "I have heard of people putting water and food in. That could feed on itself and create a much worse danger than the problem itself." Source: Mr. Levitt, Chief of the Securities and Exchange Commission, [Fairy Tale. Encouraging Americans to store water and food now, in times of plenty, will prevent panic and hoarding later. Summer is coming. Food is plentiful. Wheat and corn stocks in the US are higher now than in several years. Expecting magic is the real danger, Mr. Levitt. Make hay while the sun shines. It "eats better" than money in the stock market.]

O. "One billion human beings do not have enough food to meet their basic needs. A third of the children in developing countries are undernourished....When the world's systems fail at the beginning of the next century, even less aid will be sent. Every country will be fighting for survival. The result will be one billion corpses. We can't bury them. We can't burn them. We won't have time for funerals. We won't have time to mourn. We won't have time for inheritances. Any ideas?" Source: Joe Boivin, former Director of Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce's Year 20000 program. This appeared at Dr. Gary North , commented, "If the power grid goes down for 60 days, this forecast will be too close for comfort. It will not be just third-world nations that face famine; it will also be Western cities." [End of quiz] It is very difficult, but necessary, to ponder the consequences of a worst case scenario. Fantasizing that it is not possible , especially here in the food-rich US, is to deny the reality that, without our centralized, agricultural and food supply "miracle" intact, we are as vulnerable to starvation * maybe more so * than the rest of the world. The Year 2000 and 2001 will challenge that technology-based miracle. Agriculture is dependent on oil and the petrochemical industry. Oil and petrochemical refineries are in trouble. Strategic reserves of oil are being built up, but the embedded systems that control most of the chemical processes in refineries are presenting big worries. Insiders admit there are going to be problems. With gasoline production? Diesel? Will production mishaps affect the production of the fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides today's factory farmers require? I've been talking to you online about food supply vulnerability and the disappearance of non-hybrid seed since 1994. I began The Ark Institute as a botanical Noah's Ark based on very real threats to food and seed. I never heard about Y2K until 1996. It didn't sink in until 1997. Now I feel certain that Y2K is THE most imminent threat to commercial agriculture and, hence, to our food supply. We began selling the heirloom seeds we formerly raised just for preservation projects in 1998 because of Y2K. I now believe it is the best thing we ever did, as this special seed is now in every state in the country, serving as resources for whole communities in Y2K and beyond. Most of modern agriculture's hybrid and genetically engineered seeds are bought by farmers from one of a small handful of huge, centralized, multinational chemical/pharmaceutical/biotechnology companies. Names like DuPont Co., Cargill, DeKalb Genetics Corp, Pioneer Hi-Bred and Monsanto and their distributors. We've come down their yellow brick road to the Magic Land of Oz, but Oz is completely dependent on the flow of oil, electricity , water and money. None of these has ever encountered the fury of the Wicked Witch before. Neither have you nor I. Will they be able to produce the food miracle again in the Year 2000 or, even more questionable, in 2001? Plant your non-hybrid garden now. Learn to harvest and preserve food this year. Raise your own new seed and plant, without fail, next spring.

Oh...and pay no attention to the man behind the curtain. He's just the Wizard * -John or Dan or Bill. Use your brain. Listen to your heart. Have the courage to admit you may be vulnerable, and then do something about it. Prepare. Remember, there's no place like home......Geri Guidetti, The Ark Institute

*My apologies to Wizard of Oz purists for the likely imperfect recall of the Glinda/Dorothy dialogue. I have no time to rent the movie


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