This is an extract from Geri Guidetti's newsletter. She moderates this site's forum on Nonhybrid Gardening. I think her November 29 report is very important.
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Food Supply Update: November 29, 1997
Update: Trains, Grains, Bugs, Brains—and Y2K! Copyright © 1997, by Geri Guidetti
It’s time to update a few of the topics covered in recent Food and Grain Supply Updates. Factors with the potential to impact our national food supply are changing and converging so fast now that it’s frightening. I am hoping that by revisiting and updating some of these critical food issues that you will be armed with enough information to decide to take action on a personal and/or public level. Ideally, you will be moved to act on both levels.
In my mid-October Update I suggested you keep an eye on the merger-induced Union Pacific Railroad, crippled transportation nightmare that began late this summer. Here’s a summary of what has happened since:
· On Oct. 31, federal regulators declared the nation’s largest railroad’s "massive gridlock" had caused a transportation emergency in the West. The federal Surface Transportation Board ordered UP to open large parts of its business to competing railroads.This move is unprecedented in history. Another federal hearing will be held this week, on December 3rd, to determine if the order will be extended or more federal intervention necessary.
· What’s at stake? Critical segments of the U.S. economy. Farming. Food. Chemicals. Petrochemicals. Lumber. Steel. Seed. Coal (electricity). Automobiles. Other railroads. Military weapons. Ocean shipping vessels. International trade.
· A few affected U.S. -based companies: Dow Chemical Co., Sears, Roebuck & Co., Pier 1 Imports, Kmart Corp., Bayer, Kansas City Southern Industries, Dupont Co., Burlington Northern Santa Fe Corp., General Motors Corp., Chevron
The Union Pacific disaster threatens our already historically low national grain stocks. It threatens the safety of that grain for consumption. Facts:
· Early this month, Nebraska Public Service Commission issued grain elevators temporary licenses to store up to 50 million bushels of corn on the ground.
· Nov. 13th: USDA reports Western poultry, hog and beef producers are struggling to get feed supplies for their animals.
· USDA, Nov. 13: In Kansas, as much as 30 million bushels of grain may be piled on the ground. Nearly all of it is feed grain and concern for its deterioration is growing in view of early snow hitting the region.
· November 18: The Farm Service Agency’s commodities office in Kansas City, MO, is reported to estimate 100 million bushels of corn lying on the ground exposed to rain and snow.
· A Kansas State University grain specialist reports that grain sampled from the middle of one of the piles on the ground smelled "more like whiskey than corn." (Corn compost, anyone?)
· Union Pacific reportedly dismisses concern for corn on the ground, proclaiming such storage as a "viable long-term storage option if the ground piles are properly prepared..." according to an AP story. Agricultural experts, farmers, the federal government disagree. At best, it is a temporary option. The grain is getting wet, and wet grain rots. Most grain elevators don’t have the technology or equipment to shelter such massive piles. . . .
Y2K: The Millennium Bomb
I need to write a whole Update on the potential for food supply disasters when unremediated computers crash within our complex food production, processing and distribution system. The problem is REAL. The likelihood of severe impacts is growing, in my opinion, but for now I will deal with its impact on topics covered in this Update. In a November 12th report, USDA’s Jerry Norton wrote the following about the Union Pacific/Southern Pacific merger the resulting rail emergency: "Among the factors contriubuting to the UP-SP consolidation problems were incompatibility of computer systems between the railroads....." Well, frankly, we ain’t seen nothing yet. The current rail crisis is going to look like a walk in the park if ALL transportation computers are not compatible by January 1, 2000. Our nation’s transportation systems—from cars, to planes, to trains, to ships— all run on or are coordinated by computers. We are completely dependent on computers and the chips embedded in transportation equipment. UP is up to its earlobes in unwinding its current mess. Will its Y2K remediation efforts come anywhere near making it on time to avert an unthinkable disaster? If not, there WILL be food problems. Count on it.
Y2K and bugs—bacterial, viral, fungal, etc. Epidemiology is now a global affair. The U.S.’s Centers for Disease Control (CDC) is the best in the world for monitoring and diagnosing diseases and epidemics. They do most of their epidemiological studies at computers. The global disease outbreak reporting and analysis functions are computer dependent. The CDC is already grossly understaffed and underfunded at a time when emerging diseases in a global marketplace are making scientists’ heads spin. The CDC is now also trying to remediate all of those computers on which they depend to monitor food contamination and other microbial threats. Ditto for state health agencies.
On January 1, 2000, the integrity of this wonderful, complex, computer-based function is threatened. If it fails, we are on our own until they get it back up—if they get it back up. Remember, this is a global food marketplace and a global microbial soup—a virtual melting pot of organisms that are tracked by computer. The rest of the world is further behind on Y2K computer compliance that we are in the U.S. Their computers can "reinfect" ours even if we manage to get ours done on time. Then there are all of those computer-controlled food processing lines that ensure you won’t get botulism in your green beans. But that’s a whole other story for another day. Y2K will affect food. Period. It’s just a matter of how much, how pervasively, how bad. We have a little over 2 years left to consider how we plan to get along without the local grocery store- -- it only has a 2-3 day supply of food--if the unthinkable happens. What will you do if the food supply is interrupted or unreliable for a week? A month? A year or more? What would you do if there were spotty outbreaks of botulism, E. coli, DT104, C. jejuni occur- ring regularly throughout the country as a result of computer systems failure? What would you do if there were no dependable grain, flour or bread deliveries for days/weeks at a time? No fresh vegetables?
Enough. Anyone can define the problems. The Ark Institute was formed to provide information, technologies, education— real solutions. I have never felt it more important to move on this mission than now. Take this seriously—it IS serious. Write to me. Get started. Get started now...... Geri Guidetti, The Ark Institute
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