Important! Trains, Grains,
Bugs, Brains, and Y2K!
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 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 either.
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:
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 on Humans
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, fungal, etc.
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 computers.
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 IS serious. Write to me. Get started. Get started now......

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