Y2K Food Supply Prospects Paint Frightening Picture
copyright © 1998, by Geri Guidetti
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It's crunch time. Here comes 1999, and it promises to be a dilly. Not since
the days when guns replaced sharpened hunting sticks, and grain mills replaced
crude, hand-hewn mortars and pestles, has a year's rollover meant more to
the question of whether or not there will be enough food for the future.
Simply put, what we doóas nations, states, businesses, families and
individualsóin the next twelve months, may well determine what, when,
and if we will eat in the year 2000 and beyond.
Over the past three years, I have been sounding an alarm that our food supply
is much less safe and secure than any of us can imagine, largely due to
vulnerabilities wrought by the same technology that has brought us so much
food. We've created a monster, and the monster's about to get sick. If you
come to the same conclusion, it will raise your anxiety level. Most of us
don't need anymore anxiety in our lives, yet the flip side of that is that
it is better to know, when you might be able to do something about it, than
not to know and be helpless to change the outcome. It is with some apprehension
that I offer some thoughts about the bigger food supply picture for 1999
and prospects for Y2K.
We will redefine food in the year 2000. It may take a little while, but
s-garcia-and-big-gulp-chasers will be metamorphosed into a grateful-to-have-bowl-of-vegetable-soup-with-homemade-bread-with-water-chaser.
And remember, if you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem.
Despite the calm reassurances and optimistic projections of elected leaders,
appointed agency heads and corporate CEOs, the ugly truth about our collective,
global impotence to purge our infrastructure of the so-called Millennium
Bug is leaking, seeping, oozing out. The Millennium Bug is the Ebola of
our technology based existence. There is no cure for Ebola, and it will
infect the computer-dependent food supply monster in the year 2000. Unless
we hear and see proof, in the next few months, that the complex production,
processing, distribution and sales limbs of the beast are fixed or that
effective contingency plans are in place increasing public awareness and
the resulting panic will make it sick well before the close of 1999.
Let's look at some prospects for disease prevention. The U.S. Department
of Agriculture (USDA) now has a web site offering called, Facts
About the Y2K Problem and the Food Supply Sector. It is here that you
will find Secretary of Agriculture, Dan Glickman's, public statement on
the problem. He observes that it takes the work of
"tens of thousands of people" to produce a meal for an American
family. He then says:
"I must confess, however, that until recently I hadn't thought very
much about the connection between food on our tables and computers. But,
as a new millennium approaches, that link is becoming all too clear....We
are facing the potential of serious disruption because of this problem...."
Interesting. In July of 1997 I published an Update citing data in one of
the USDA's own reports on the extent of computers in all aspects of agriculture
and posed the questions, at that time, concerning potential impacts on our
food supply. Had Mr. Glickman even seen that USDA report? Had he thought
about its implications for our nation's food in Y2K? In his current statement,
he goes on to say,
"That's why USDA, along with the rest of the Administration, is hard
at work to make sure our internal systems are Y2K compliant. We are also
working with our partners in state and local governments who help deliver
federal programs to make sure our computers continue to talk to each other
and perform the work they are programmed to do. Now, through the President's
Council on Year 2000 Conversion, the federal government has undertaken a
massive outreach effort to heighten awareness of the Y2K problem.
"The Council has asked USDA, working with the Departments of Defense,
Health and Human Services, State, and the Commodities Futures Trading Commission,
to lead the government's awareness campaign to the food supply sector."
Let's get this straight. First, Dan Glickman, the head of the federal agency
that oversees food production for the U.S. and much of the rest of the world,
just recently became aware of the connection between computers and food?
Next, the newly formed President's Council on Year 2000 Conversion has asked
the USDA to work with The Departments of Defense, Health and Human Services,
and State to lead the government's awareness campaign on Y2K to the food
The Department of Defense? On November 23rd, the Department of Defense was
given a D-minus on the House of Representative's quarterly report card on
its Y2K progress on mission critical systems. Mission CRITICAL systems only.
On November 27th, the Defense Department's own Inspector General accused
the Pentagon of falsifying Y2K compliance reports released by its Special
Weapons Agency, the agencyóare you sitting down?-that manages our
nuclear weapons stockpile. (Falsifying reports. Isn't that the same thing
as lying?) The Special Weapons Agency admits that it did, indeed, certify
computer systems as Y2K compliant without completing testing on them, and
the Pentagon admits to having no explanation for its agency's misrepresentation.
In fact, only 25 percent of systems reported by the Defense Department as
being compliant actually were, according to a report released by the Inspector
General in July. THIS is the department that has been asked to lead, with
USDA, food supply industry awareness.
USDA's second, assigned leader in this "massive outreach effort to
heighten awareness..." is the Department of Health and Human Services,
November 23rd recipient of an F grade on their Y2K report card. It seems
this department which is responsible for administering the nations Medicare
program has only fixed 7 of their 100 mission critical systems. Given the
potentially catastrophic consequences of a failed Medicare system in 2000,
how much of their staff and budget do you think they will assign to a food
supply awareness campaign?
The Department of State, the third assigned leader, is yet another rated
F agency. ( If you still have some question about whether we are in good
hands, overall, with our federal agencies, the U.S. Agency for International
Development (USAID) received an F as well. It seems their recently purchased
computer system is not Y2K compliant. Rep. Stephen Horn said, "They
receive the dunce of the year award.")
Back to Secretary Glickman's official Y2K statement:
"The best way we can do that (lead the government's awareness campaign
to the food supply sector) is by forming a partnership with industry groups
whose members are involved in food production and distribution. Our goal:
to make sure everyone involved in food supply production, processing, distribution,
and sales is aware of their potential Y2K problems, understands the importance
of acting now to check their systems, and knows where they can go for help."
I do pray that even a quarter of "everyone involved" in food supply
has not waited until now for this leadership in awareness, understanding,
and "checking their systems." If so, the party's over because
there will be no food served.
A MESSAGE TO EVERYONE INVOLVED IN PRODUCTION, PROCESSING, DISTRIBUTION AND
SALES OF FOOD IN THE U.S.: According to several of the nation's top, most
respected senior programmers the men and women working in the belly of this
sick Y2K beastóit is already too late for awareness, understanding
and checking. It is too late to write a plan of action. It is too late to
expect to find and keep programmers to repair all of your systems. It is
too late. If you are to remain in business after 1999, if you are to become
part of the solution, if you are to be there for the rebuilding of our infrastructure
in the next century, it is time for contingency planning. It's not too late
If Americans and, for that matter, the rest of the technology-dependent
world, are not to panic about year 2000 food supplies in 1999, please answer
honestlyóand PUBLISH WIDELYóresponses to the following: How
are you working now to ensure us that you can deliver the goods if your
mission critical computers collapse? If your suppliers' and vendors' computers
collapse? Farmers-if your tractors don't work? If the Global Positioning
Satellite system some of you use to farm doesn't get fixed? If you can't
get fuel for your farm equipment? If your combines can't harvest? What seed
will you plant in Y2K if your spring seed shipments don't arrive in February
and March 2000? How will you produce food and seed for 2001 if you miss
the year 2000 planting? If the multinational hybrid seed producers can't
produce seed for you? How will you plant if there's no gas or diesel at
your local supplier for your equipment in 2000? If you can't get fertilizers,
herbicides, pesticides? Are you stocking up now? CAN you stock up given
your current financial condition?
Supermarket chains: How are you planning now to stock your stores so folks
can have food on hand to see them through at least a few months of 2000,
if necessary? Are you increasing your stocks now to ensure us that there
will be enough? We read that whole cities only have 72 hours of food in
their pipelines. That the U.S. only has 3 months worth within its borders.
Have you communicated that to emergency services and civil defense organizations
in your city? What are your alternatives to just-in-time inventory management?
Can you find/build space for longer term food product storage? How are you
planning to sell food when your check-out scanners fail-if the power goes
out in Y2K? How will you total cash ordersóhand-held solar calculators?
Have you bought them?
Food Processors: How are you working to assure us that those canned beans
will be processed long enough to kill botulism bacteria? Are there manual
overrides for your conveyor belts and heat/pressure canning operations?
Have you talked to your suppliers about alternative methods of getting the
beans to put into those cans? How will you get the huge amounts of water
you need to process food if the municipal water systems go down? If the
water is insufficiently processed and contaminated? Conversely, if it contains
dangerously high levels of chlorine? Have you thought this through?
Food distribution centers: How will you know which store needs what if the
scanners and computer calculations go haywire in Y2K? How will you get product
to ship if railway shipments are delayed or non-existent. If some/many/most
of your truckers are not able to deliver product for you? Is there a basic
list of products that you will ship to each and every store if there is
no computer communication between you? Can you do it by telephone? What
if there are no telephones?
Food industry leaders: Have you done the "big picture thinking"
about your industry if a worst case scenario is realized in Y2K? Are you
aware of what a worst case scenario would be like? Have you done the "dominoes
thinking?" What proportion of the industry is now devoted to production
of highly-processed, energy and computer dependent foods? Have you talked
among yourselves about rethinking food product needs in a national emergency?
With rolling blackouts and intermittent refrigeration? Can a portion of
your factories be retooled to produce foods with high, concentrated nutrition
and a long shelf-lifeóno refrigeration needed. Now ?
Enough questions. I encourage readers to share them and your own food supply
questions with anyone involved in food production or supply in your area;
your supermarket manager; your mom and pop grocer; with emergency preparedness
groups; with clergy; your city council president; your mayor; your state
representatives; your boss; your mother-in-law; whomever. Remember: if we're
not part of the solution, we're part of the problem. The first part of doing
contingency planning will be to raise the volume on the questions we have
and to persistently insist on answers. When we have answers we think we
can trust, we can then make the personal and community decisions necessary
for survival. REAL leadership is obviously not going to come from the top
on this. It's going to come from the bottomógrass roots. From youóall
If the senior programmers are rightóif it's too late to fix even
the mission critical systemsóthen food and water will prove to be
our most critical national concern in mid- to late 1999. Electrical failures
and fuel supply interruptions will make them obsessions in 2000.
Our entire human food supply is based on plants and plant seeds. Seed for
farmers may be in short supply in 2000. New, hybrid and non-hybrid seeds
produced in 1999 for the year 2000 crop may not reach all who need it due
to transportation and distribution breakdowns. Those commercial farmers
who didn't stock two years worth of fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides
in 1999 may be out of luck in 2000. Most of these inputs are petrochemical
based, and the refineries and chemical companies may be plagued by their
embedded chip problems. (A horrifying post by a refinery worker recently
claimed that refineries will NOT be functional when the clock strikes twelve
on January 1, 2000. He claims they can't even find all of the embedded chips
to test unless they break down and rebuild all of the refineries. There's
no time for that. Guess we won't know if refineries and fuels will make
it until January 1st.)
If international and national oil, gas and electricity are not in good shape,
several of the multinational seed and chemical giants will run into serious
Y2K difficulties. This scenario WOULD affect the food supply for the year
2000 and 2001. Distribution of diesel fuel and gasoline supplies to run
farm machinery may be undependable. Seasonal planting deadlines would be
missed. Seeds or no seeds, many crops would not get planted, and that would
prove deadly for 2001. That year would be worse than 2000. Those with a
cache of non-hybrid seeds and some land to grow it on should at least be
able to eat come summer and fall. Those who learn how to multiply and save
that seed for 2001 and beyond would no longer be part of the problem, but
part of the solution. They'd be less likely to go hungry.
Unless we get some fast, honest ,complete answers, AND encouraging ones
as well, 1999 will be a year of food panic. Like your withdrawals from your
bank account, what you take out of the store will be limited. Rice: $7.29
for a 10 pound bag, reads the ad. Limit, one. Coming to a store near you.
You have to be part of the solution. We have a year to reach more people,
to push for serious contingency planning, to help one another. Think village.
Think community. Grow a non-hybrid seed garden THIS summer. Multiply the
seed. Give some away. Learn to can and dry food. Teach others to do the
same. Teach your family members, too, in case anything happens to you. Be
part of the solution.
Ebola kills its host by infecting host cells with its "bad code",
corrupting and commandeering host DNA, forcing it to spew out bad, instead
of normal data, replicating the virus, over and over again, until the whole
host body is one seething bag of bad virus. Though there have been a couple
of reports of successful treatment with antibodies against this monster,
aggressive support of progressively failing host systems is the only treatment
available to date. There is, at this time, no hope of going into every cell
in every host and excising or fixing the bad code. There is no magic bullet.
By a combination of arrogance, ignorance, greed and denial, we have infected
the global "host" with a technological Ebola. It is now systemic.
If the senior programmers are right, in 1999, we will begin to bleed. In
2000, we will hemorrhage. Our focus must now shift from expecting to cure
it to contingency planning for critical, life systems support. Electricity.
Food. Water. Telecommunications. Fuel.
Medicine. From these, with newly found humility, we will rebuild.....Geri
Guidetti, The Ark Institute
The Ark Institute, PO Box 142, Oxford, OH 45056. Non-hybrid seeds, educational
materials, and support for sustainable food self-sufficiency and self-reliance.
You CAN do this! http://www.arkinstitute.com
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