- 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 will be 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, Sears, Roebuck, Pier 1 Imports,
Kmart, Bayer, Kansas City Southern Industries, Dupont, Burlington Northern
Santa Fe, General Motors, 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.
- In the September 13th Update I wrote:
- "An even casual analysis of data
from global population studies, microbial genetics, ecology, modern agricultural
and medical practices, international trade agreements and, yes, of bottom-line
oriented business practices, suggests the probability of a dramatic escalation
in life-threatening contamination incidences in the future... ....Simply
stated, massive and dangerous microbial contamination events will become
a growing threat to a food supply system already fraught with potential
Achille's heels." (end quote)
- When I read the cover story of the November
24 issue of U.S. News & World Report, I was wishing I hadn't said that.
Entitled "Outbreak: Danger in the Food Supply", the piece documents,
among other things, the appearance of yet another potentially deadly strain
of bacteria in the U.S. in cattle and a family on a Vermont farm this May.
This one, Salmonella typhimurium DT104, is resistant to at least five
antibiotics including the former powerhouses ampicillin, chloramphenicol,
streptomycin, sulfonamides and tetracycline. It kills cattle AND people.
The only antibiotics the bug has not shown resistance to here in the U.S.
yet is a new class of drugs called fluoroquinolones. Bacteria mutate quickly.
All you need to do is expose them to the agent you want to create resistance
to and, bingo, Nature cooperates. When that happens with DT104, we'll
have nothing left to fight it. Animals and people will die.
- Not scared yet? DT104 is now epidemic
in England. It has also swept through Denmark, Germany, and Wales. The
English have been using fluoroquinolones, since 1995. Example: Last year,
an English turkey farmer put his turkeys on flouroquinolones to prevent
a respiratory disease that might have made the holiday birds unsaleable.
Guess what? Some of his turkeys ended up getting DT104 infections instead...DT104
that was resistant to the standard antibiotics AND to fluoroquinolones.
The mutations have already occurred in England. Figure they've already
occurred here. We'll hear about them soon. I wish I hadn't said that
- In the U.S., DT104 has been found in
sheep, dogs, elk, mice, squirrels, horses, goats, raccoons, chipmunks,
pigeons and starlings, according to U.S. News. In fact, it is now thought
that imported exotic birds may have been the original source. We don't
generally eat most of these animals...sheep the exception...but we do eat
beef and drink milk. And now we know that it is an approved practice to
feed beef cattle chicken manure, birds, and cats. (Yes, dead cats....passed
on from veterinarians. Can't be true? Check it out. Click on a few of
the links at the U.S. News web site. See the Federal Government's documentation
on what can be fed to beef cattle and milk cows. Plan to spend a few hours
reading. Then plan to spend money on antacids. You'll need them.)
- By the way, the infected Vermont farm
family got S. typhimurium DT104 from drinking unpasteurized (raw) milk
from their cows. Prudence would dictate that you diligently avoid ALL
unpasteurized dairy products, including cheeses, and that you order your
burgers well done. Watch your kids burgers, too. Children are especially
vulnerable to Salmonella infections. Prudence also dictates that you fastidiously
avoid cross-contamination of your kitchen, your cutlery, your meat and
bread boards, even your doorknobs when preparing poultry or any meat.
- Okay, this is a topic that could alone
fill ten Updates but here,briefly, are some statistics on the rapidly worsening
food contamination problem: 81 MILLION Americans contract foodborne illnesses
each year. Of these, 9,100 die. The number of deaths will increase as
antibiotic resistance increases. The Food and Drug Administration employs
700 food safety inspectors and laboratory workers to monitor 53,000 food-processing
plants and ALL imported produce. (U.S.News & World Report, Nov. 24)
Have you absorbed those numbers yet? (GG) The Centers for Disease Control
(CDC) estimates there are between 2-4 million U.S. Salmonella cases each
year. ( Salmonella enteritidis is the most common. Eggs are the key source.
No raw egg holiday eggnog! No, that much booze doesn't kill it. No sampling
raw cookie dough, either!) Campylobacter jejuni is now the leading cause
of foodborne illness. It has been estimated to be present in between 70-90%
of all U.S. chickens and turkeys. Affected: 2-8 million a year, 800
deaths. **C. jejuni has been implicated in the autoimmune nerve/paralytic
disease called Guillain-Barre` Syndrome. (Figure your chicken/turkey has
it. Handle with care.) Under the federal government,s NEW, BETTER food
safety system instituted this year, 1 in 300 beef carcasses will be tested
for E.coli contamination. 1 in 3000 turkeys. 1 in 20,000 chickens. There
is NO requirement for microbial testing in meat processing plants. Hudson
Foods was a meat processing plant. Recalled 25 million pounds of ground
beef. Contaminant: E.coli. Feel safe now?
- You would think, after the Seattle Times
July expose of the rampant and growing use of toxic hazardous wastes in
fertilizers spread on America's farmlands, that the responsible government
agencies would have the brains to investigate and monitor such businesses
and practices and hold responsible parties accountable. (See my July 26
Grain Supply Update.) You would think.
- Are you sitting down? Bay Zinc of Moxee,
WA was reported as one of those companies with a federal permit to store
hazardous wastes which were then sold as a raw material for agricultural
fertilizer. The stuff contains zinc, a bona fide plant nutrient, but also
contains toxic heavy metals like lead and cadmium. Well, now Bay Zinc
has "crossed the line" according to regulators. Sunday's (11-23-97)
Seattle Times now reports that Bay Zinc has been buying highly toxic ash
from incinerated automobile tires from Exeter Energy Company, a tire-burning
plant in Sterling, Connecticut. It has been making plant food from 12,000
TONS of the toxic waste which is high in both lead and cadmium from the
incineration of the tire's steel belts from 1994 through August, 1997,
according to the Times. The Washington Department of Ecology just found
out about it. "We should have known about this," said Brian Dick
of the Ecology Department, according to the Times. "They should have
told us sooner...." Hmmm, the Washington Ecology Department waits
for the perpetrators of such practices to TELL them they are doing it?
- The Connecticut Department of the Environment
has also just learned of the practice. It has ordered Exeter Energy to
halt shipments of the hazardous waste to Bay Zinc and to put it in a hazardous
waste landfill, according to the Seattle Times. There's lots more to this
story. Read it at: www.seattletimes.com
- Does the Lead and Cadmium
Get Into Plants?
- Cadmium is readily absorbed by plants
and tends to concentrate in plant's leaves, in grains and in fleshy fruits.
No information on lead absorption by plants, but it doesn't have to be
absorbed to be dangerous.
- Effects of Cadmium and Lead
- Cadmium: We don't know how much is safe.
May be more pernicious than lead or mercury because it accumulates in
the body and is "subtly toxic to virtually every system." Builds
up in the kidney. At high enough doses causes lung damage, high blood
pressure, heart ailments, cancer, chronic fatigue syndrome, Alzheimer's
and reproductive problems. Canada, Europe, Australia have imposed limits.
The U.S. has not. (!)
- Lead: There is no safe level according
to a physician at the National Lead Information Center. High enough levels
are known to cause birth defects, cancer and central nervous system (brain
and spinal cord) damage. Children are especially vulnerable. That's why
lead levels in paints and gas are regulated. Not so in food fertilizers.
- Do You Own Some?
- According to the Seattle Times, the fertilizers
you buy in your hardware store may have Bay Zinc's toxic tire ash in it.
"If a fertilizer has black zinc granules, it likely contains Bay Zinc's
product," it says. Zinc granules without the lead and cadmium are
white, they report. Bay Zinc sells its "products" in 10 states:
California, Colorado, Idaho, Kansas, Nebraska, North Dakota, Montana,
Oregon, Washington and Wyoming. It exports them to Canada, Mexico and Australia.
The toxins are NOT listed on the fertilizer bags. Users are unwittingly
exposed to lead and cadmium when handling the fertilizers. Farmers are
MAD! Read their reactions to this, then get mad yourself. Time to start
asking serious questions in your state?
- 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 12, 1997 report, USDA's
Jerry Norton wrote the following about the Union Pacific/Southern Pacific
merger and 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,
- Epidemiology is now a global affair.
The U.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,
and 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 occurring 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,
and 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......