Food Chain - It's Time for Contingency Planning : LUSENET : Millennium Salons : One Thread

Much thanks to Nancy Lee Bentley, of Food Circle Associates, who sent this paper to me in response to my question "If you could talk to the organic farmers and natural foods providers of our country about Y2k, what would you say?"

I've added links, and these may imply an editorialization that Nancy has not intended, so please consider the depth and density of this a collage of my own artifice, and not of hers. I've also done a small amount of reformatting, in order to help the paper make sense in this context.

Even with my additional layering, Nancy's piece - as a call to action from our natural foods producers and consumers nationwide - largely stands on its own.

In Community,

Cynthia Beal Red Barn Natural Grocery Eugene, Oregon October 18, 1998


From: Nancy Lee Bentley Food Circle Associates 920-892-2455

October 1, 1998

Re: Sustainable Food Industry and What to do about Y2K ?

Big Challenges Ahead...

You've got a big test ahead of you in the next year. If you're lucky it will only be an exercise in moral judgment. If you're not, it won't make any difference. Except to you.

But, the fact is, you could soon be more valuable, popular and powerful than the nation's richest banker..... How you and your business choose to deal with this issue can and will affect the lives of thousands.

Why? Because you are in control or are involved in the production, acquisition and/or distribution of large quantities of a commodity that is, under a very a probable set of upcoming circumstances, going to be more valuable than money ---- foodstuffs.

You are very likely going to be in a position to hold peoples' lives in your hands. With some projected Y2k scenarios [and with or without Y2k, vis a vis this projected scenario of our Military Health System], you could have to decide the fate of whether certain people live or die....

What, you say?

Many of us have been working on sustainable food and agriculture issues for years, back even before Rodale's Cornucopia project took a concerted look at food sustainability issues. More recently the term food security has been adopted to focus beyond the food safety net concept, beyond the food pantries and the needy, to embrace the concept of a more sustainable regional food system and healthy, plentiful, ecologically sound food available to everyone, no matter what.

Many of us have spent long hours hawking healthier food, sustainable agriculture, developing and organizing local/regional foodsystems initiatives, urging food professionals and municipalities to develop contingency food preparedness plans.. Little action has resulted. None of us, even now, really wants to stop and take a hard look and face the brutal truth, let alone really being prepared to deal with the potential consequences of the Y2k crunch.

Those of us in the natural and organic food industry have been very concerned with the availability of food quality issues in recent years. Yet, food quality may become a moot point. In the worst Y2k scenarios, food quantity -- the availability of any kind of food at all -- will dwarf more discerning food quality issues.

So, ultimately, all of us, each of us, individually and collectively, has to deal with and answer the question:

What to do about Y2k?

* Short circuit denial? * Learn about it?

Make your own decision, based on facts, progress to date and recommendations of those who have been studying it. Then, based on this, ACT. If you decide to ignore it, stop here and go about your business.

Otherwise, get moving. Insist that your business face and deal with Y2K issues. NOW. Even though you are in the midst of your biggest, busiest season of the year. 1) Develop contingency plans. 2) Create a plan for you and your family. 3) Start to make emergency lists 4) Acquire open pollinated seeds, your personal stores. 5) Help your business develop a position, a policy and implement a Y2k strategy, including the range of your outreach about this delicate subject. 6) Organize local food circles to focus on cooperative contingency plans.

Consider these points from Geri Guidetti's, The Ark Institute, article "Feast or Famine? Non-Hybrid Seed Stocks Will Decide"

"If you choose to ignore or deny the biological realities of our genetically vulnerable food supply, there is the simple reality that dependence on seed companies to provide hybrid seeds year in and year out - dependence on a mere handful of farmers to grow your current year's food supply - complete dependence on functional distribution and delivery systems - is simply madness.

Perhaps many of us exhibit a forgivable arrogance born of the nearly miraculous success of the Green Revolution begun in the middle of this century. Most of us have never experienced real hunger. Food has always been abundant and cheap to boot. We suspect - no, we expect - it will always be that way. Is it even comprehensible to any of us that famine can occur here?

There's another reason to personally get involved in the growing of non-hybrid seed varieties. In a little over two years - two gardening seasons of an average 4 months each - the potential crashing of the world's computers due to the Year 2000 computer problem will impact food production and delivery systems in ways we can only begin to imagine.

Two gardening seasons left. Will the Y2K problem impact the computerized irrigation systems of the sophisticated farms that raise the world's hybrid food seeds?

Will computers miscalculate fertilizer formulas being distributed by sophisticated tractors? Will combines that harvest the nation's and the world's wheat be functional? Will they get it done before the fall rains or will they be so problematic and slow that the grain falls in the field?

Will the computers and satellites that manage the buying and selling, storage and distribution of food commodities globally function properly?

Will the computers from regional food warehouses tally orders and send trucks to local supermarkets correctly?

Will there be food shortages, or will there simply be temporary disruptions? Will there be - could there be - famine ? It's mind-boggling even to ponder, isn't it? The answer to all of these questions, of course, is that we just don't know, and since we just don't know, the only prudent thing to do is to prepare for the worst case scenario and consider ourselves blessed if the new century arrives without a hitch."

Consider what you and your organization will do about Y2k in view of the fact that:

You may be in possession of one of the few stockpiles of foodstuffs in your area. You may be confronted by people who are starving and begging you for food. You may be targetted with an organized posse (or army) of starving, violent people who converge on you to raid your facility and/or foodstores.. Local organizations such as churches may pressure you to open up your warehouses to feed starving people. Despite the lack of communications infrastructure, other organized authorities such as local municipalities may invoke Emergency Powers Act and attempt to seize and confiscate your inventory. You may have to defend your inventory with armed weapons. Your own employees in desperation may panic and pilfer product from you even before January 1, 2000.

If normal food distribution channels are disrupted (many of us are now routinely using "when" instead of "if") you will be faced with major decisions of this kind, whether you want to or not. Why wait to deal with these hard realities?

On the Other Hand,... Y2k food issues could be the impetus to get people to eat healthier, lower on the food chain, natural foods -- grains, legumes, nuts and seeds, vegetables, whole, minimally processed foods. Y2K could actually positively impact your bottom line, depending upon how you and your organization choose to tackle the issue.


The Ark Institute

Gary North's website

Karen Anderson

The Food Circle


Fooddude clearinghouse

Food Marketing Institute's White paper on Year 2000

Association of Wholesale Marketers

Food Distribution International Year 2005 Study

National Food Processors

International Food Information Council

Food World and Food Trade News

Nancy Lee Bentley Food Circle Associates 920-892-2455

-- cynthia (, October 18, 1998

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