This document has been made available in electronic format by the International Co-operative Alliance (ICA) 

Y2K Food Supply Prospects Paint Frightening Picture (1998)

Dec., 1998
(Source: Co-op Dialogue, Vol. 8, No. 3, Oct.-Dec., 1998, pp. 13-16)
**************************************************************** (This article by Geri Guidetti of The Ark Institute, PO Box 142, Oxford, OH 45056, has been taken from the GKD (Global Knowledge Development) List, which makes interesting reading. Interested readers can visit the web site of GKD at: .

The Ark Institute deals with non-hybrid seeds, educational materials, and support for sustainable food self-sufficiency and self-reliance. The institute has a web site: ; E-mail: . The Institute's web site also includes archived back issues of the Grain and Food Supply Updates. Copyright 1998, by Geri Guidetti. We thank the GKD Moderators and the author. -Editor)

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 do "as nations, states, businesses, families and individuals" in 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 that must-have-super-size-fried-double-whopper-with-bacon-and-cheese-with-cherries-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."

You can find it at: 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 US 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 industry ?

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 agency - are 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 US Agency for International Development (US-AID) 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 every one involved in production, processing, distribution and sales of Food in the US

According to several of the nation's top, most respected senior programmers, the men and women working in the belly of this sick Y2K beast, it 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 for that.

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 honestly and PUBLISH WIDELY responses 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 US 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 orders hand-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-life no 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 bottom: "grassroots". From you - all of you.

If the senior programmers are right, "if it's too late to fix even the mission critical systems", then 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. Soon.

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.....

You CAN do this!