The Nations Food Supply – At Critical Risk
Just how vulnerable is the national food supply? And from what source? According to the RAND Corporation, our food supply is open to significant vulnerabilities.
RAND Corporation, National Defense Research Institute
An Attack Would Have Huge Impact
A major agroterrorist attack would have substantial economic repercussions, especially when allied industries and services???suppliers, transporters, distributors, and restaurant chains???are taken into account. The fiscal downstream effect of a deliberate act of sabotage would be multidimensional, reverberating through other sectors of the economy and ultimately impacting the consumer.
Significant Vulnerabilities Exist
Key vulnerabilities in the agricultural sector stem from:
- Concentrated and intensive contemporary farming practices. Highly crowded breeding and rearing conditions mean an outbreak of a contagious disease would be very difficult to contain, especially if it is airborne, and could require the destruction of all exposed livestock.
- Increased susceptibility of livestock to disease. This has occurred because of changes in husbandry practices???from sterilization programs to dehorning, branding, and hormone injections??? and from the overuse and misuse of antibiotics.
- Insufficient farm/food-related security and surveillance. Farms seldom incorporate vigorous means to prevent unauthorized access; most animal auctions and barn sales are devoid of organized on-site surveillance; and food processing has been focused on the threat. Unfortunately, the agricultural and food industries are vulnerable to disruption, and the capabilities that terrorists would need for such an attack are not considerable. In the short term and medium term, a series of targeted initiatives could improve the current situation; over the longer term, efforts should be directed toward standardizing and streamlining food-supply and agricultural safety measures within the framework of a single, integrated strategy. the small- and medium-scale facilities that have proliferated in recent years.
The report is an eye opener when you consider how easily vulnerable our national food supply is. Anyone could attack it if they wanted to and there is almost nothing that can be done about it. Simply interrupting the food supply would be sufficient. You wouldn???t need to necessarily destroy it – just temporarily stop it or slow it down and you would have chaos and massive human suffering nationwide because the stores would be stripped bare in a matter of hours.
The vulnerabilities are nearly endless, including biological warfare, agroterrorism, pandemic, climate change and peak oil.
Almost all Americans are extremely dependent upon the grocery store / supermarket for their daily sustenance. Whether you shop and cook at home, or eat out all of the time, you are entirely dependent upon the food being available, safe and plentiful. But what if it isn???t available? Or safe? Can this happen?
It happens all of the time. Acts of bioterrorism have already occurred but the significance of these events is most often overlooked.
Our entire national food supply system is a “just in time” delivery system that is highly dependent upon crops, weather, storage, delivery and stocking, supported by a vast array of farmers, tractors, trucks, trains and delivery systems so that you and hundreds of millions of their consumers, receive the food you need. At any point in this system, the food supply is vulnerable to a large number of factors.
In the 1930’s, supermarkets only accounted for 5 – 10% of food sales. Now, it’s exceeding 80%. Even the distribution centers for the nations supermarkets are having to resupply their entire stock daily.
A gigantic shift has occurred in America, but this is now happening all over the world. The significance of this is obvious. For supermarkets alone, 80% of the American consumers are dependent upon a “just in time” delivery system to provide them with food. This does not account for restaurants, mom & pop grocery stores, dollar stores and all other types of ???food suppliers??? which undoubtedly make up a significant percentage of the food outlets and consumption for consumers. Every single point in this entire chain is vulnerable to a number of factors.
One of the vulnerabilities, that has nothing to do with terrorism is the rising cost of fuel.
Before the sale is even made, a product like Cheerios burns 60% of its cost in shipping and even after delivery to the shelf, heavy expenses continue to pile up.
Unbelievably, the emphasis is to reduce food warehousing –
Smaller more frequent orders are required with fulfillment focused on value add handling rather than warehouse storage.
What is the significance of this? An increase reliance upon cheap oil, transportation networks, “just-in-time-delivery” and consumer demand. Consumer ‘need’ or a national strategic need isn’t even considered! This economic decision only excaberates the existing vulnerabilities.
Why is the food supply chain vulnerable?
Perspectives of a Multinational Food Company on Accidental Release or Deliberate Use of Biological Agents Affecting Food and Agriculture In spite of a sophisticated and a comprehensive food safety assurance system, the food supply chain is vulnerable when confronted with accidental contamination of food or deliberate use of biological or chemical agents. There are many reasons for this, to name a few:
1. No system can fully prevent a deliberate act of sabotage. A case in point is the recent IT virus attack against major enterprises which showed that even companies with the most sophisticated IT system could not protect themselves from a virus attack. Every year, food companies experience a number of cases of tampering. A recent case occurred in South Africa. Products from different food companies were believed to be contaminated with cyanide by an employee of a reputable distributor chain who attempted to extort money from his employer. The recent petrol bomb attack on the Nestlé Waters Ice Mountain pumping station in the USA demonstrates the reality of the threat to water sources.
2. The September 11 event has shown that the unthinkable can happen. This means that unless we receive information on specific threats, their prediction is not always feasible. As mentioned by Dr Nagpal: an act of biological or chemical terrorism can occur at any time and anywhere and predicting the same is not possible. The food safety assurance system in the food industry is designed to prevent risks which can reasonably be expected. Accidental contamination or deliberate use of hazardous agents are both unpredictable in nature. Should the raw agricultural material be contaminated due to the spread of a specific contaminant (e.g. spread of a poison over a land), which in general is unlikely to occur, the raw material monitoring programme may not necessarily detect it. As regards to biological agents, the processing is generally designed according to the resistance of organisms which are likely to occur. Although most pathogens in raw materials used in food processing will be destroyed during thermal processing, spores may survive certain processes.
3. To be fully effective, preventive measures should be taken at all stages of the food chain. Security will be as effective as the weakest link in the food chain. However, food companies have limited control over the other steps in the food chain, e.g. suppliers, distributors.
4. Risk perception is one of the most important challenges. The effectiveness of the measures relies upon the vigilance of the people, their motivation and their willingness to implement the required measures. However, the degree of collaboration and the rigor with which they will implement the measures depends to a great extent on their perception of risk.
Depending on the region and the political situation, the risk may be perceived differently by people. Risk perception studies have also shown that people are often over-optimistic. Many perceive the risk of sabotage against food and water as remote. The unpredictable nature of the risk and the feeling of helplessness are additional deterrents for people to take action.
A further reading of this report reveals the woefully inadequate risk protection measures that are suggested. The reality is, securing the nations foods supply is nearly impossible, because there are so many (literally thousands) of critical access points. What a careful reading of the report reveals is a ???management awareness??? of the risk and not much more. That’s like marking a chalk outline around your dead body after the crime. What good does it do?
What would happen if a terrorist attack really were to occur? Or a accidental biological contaminant? We’ve already seen the affects of this many times, tens of thousands, even millions of pounds of food are instantly disposed off once contamination is detected.
How many people are getting ill now? Thousands. The link only represents those that have consumed vegetables in the last five years.
Just how easy it is to taint the food supply? Even kill somebody? This represents just how vulnerable the food supply really is. Technology utterly failed in this case and two people were dead. Even RFID chips failed to prevent this. Was this an act of terrorism?
The FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations) acknowledges that climate, pandemic (in this case, HIV), civil strife and economic failure (all human caused) as being the chief factors in food shortages. Strangely, terrorism isn’t even listed (all kinds, including economic terrorism which is very widespread).
Price increases worldwide have been getting higher and higher.
In 2004, prices of basic food commodities reached their highest levels since the mid-1990s (Annex, fig.11).
- Prices of oils and fats have led this trend, rising 63 percent from the depressed levels of 2000 and 2001. Other basic food prices, including cereals, meat and dairy, have risen as well, although by smaller margins.
- Price increases in the oilseeds sector reflect continuing strong demand growth for oils for food use and meals for animal feed. The current high level of oilseed prices is stimulating farmers to increase plantings, and ??? assuming weather conditions remain good and pest incidence low ??? an anticipated expansion in oilseed production in 2004/05 could dampen the upward trend in prices.
- Cereal prices rose 29 percent between 2000 and 2004.
- International meat prices increased in 2003 and 2004 as animal disease outbreaks in major meat exporting countries and resulting bans on imports from these areas reduced exportable supplies. Poultry and pig meat prices have moderated somewhat in 2004, but bovine meat prices continued to surge as disease problems and higher feed prices depress output and trade prospects. Link
A careful read of the 2005 report reveals that despite recent gains in world wide production, several notable areas are in decline or have leveled out, despite a world wide hunger population of a “stubbornly high” 815 million people. Fish capture (fishing, excluding aquaculture) declined and a ever increasing reliance on aquaculture (fish farms) now supplies over 32% of world fish production (2/3 of that is going to China). This significance of this is that wild fish stocks are severely depleted worldwide and getting worse.
What the FAO fails to recognize or at least emphasize, in my opinion, is the interlocking dependencies upon critical infrastructures, all which have multiple vulnerabilities and access points and all which are dependent upon cheap energy (oil). Yet this fact is being recognized by others –
From farm to plate, the modern food system relies heavily on cheap oil. And as food undergoes more processing and travels farther, the gobal food system consumes ever more energy each year. But, as the present shortage of refined oil shows, the days of cheap oil are probably over. So what are the implications for food supplies?
Rising oil prices will impact food supplies by Danielle Murray
The US food system uses over 10 quadrillion Btu (10,551 quadrillion Joules) of energy each year, as much as France’s total annual energy consumption. Growing food accounts for only one fifth of this. The other four-fifths is used to move, process, package, sell, and store food after it leaves the farm.
21 per cent of overall food system energy is used in agricultural production, another 14 per cent goes to food transport, 16 per cent to processing, 7 per cent to packaging, 4 per cent to food retailing, 7 per cent to restaurants and caterers, and 32 per cent to home refrigeration and preparation.
Food today travels farther than ever, with fruits and vegetables in western industrial countries often logging 2,500-4,000 kilometres from farm to store.
Processed foods now make up three-fourths of total world food sales.
Farmers’markets are expanding across the United States, growing from 1,755 markets in 1993 to 3,100 in 2002, but still represent only 0.3 percent of food sales.
Fossil fuel reliance may prove to be the Achilles heel of the modern food system. Oil supply fluctuations and disruptions could send food prices soaring overnight. Competition and conflict could quickly escalate. Decoupling the food system from the oil industry is key to improving food security.
Food is quite obviously, the oil that you eat. As oil goes up in price, so does food, dramatically. As oil becomes scarce, so will food, the two go hand in hand. The problem is “local food production”, which is an oxymoron in today’s world. Our world, our supermarkets are highly dependent upon international trade and commerce, which in turn is highly dependent upon a sea of cheap oil, and all of this vast, global infrastructure is vulnerable at thousands of access points to bioterrorism, economic collapse, interruption or disaster.
On top of all this is global climate change, Climate Changes and Food Supply by David Pimentel
Due to the enormous uncertainties surrounding global climate change, estimates of cropland reductions vary widely–from 10 to 50 percent. But this much is clear: global warming is likely to alter production of rice, wheat, corn, soybeans, and potatoes–staples for billions of people and major food crops in both North America and Africa.
In North America, projected changes in temperature, soil moisture, carbon dioxide, and pests associated with global warming are expected to decrease food-crop production by as much as 27 percent.
A 27% reduction due to climate change would result in massive starvation worldwide. Additional reductions could be realized by a cascading series of events, such as oil shortages, potential terrorists attacks, pandemic, civil strife and infectious agents.
What is being done?
The President is encouraged to enter into negotiations with other nations to develop an international system of food reserves to provide for humanitarian food relief needs and to establish and maintain a food reserve, as a contribution of the United States toward the development of such a system, to be made available in the event of food emergencies in foreign countries. The reserves shall be known as the International Emergency Food Reserve. May 25, 2005
Is the President serious about food protection? These numbers are a joke and don’t represent a single drop in an ocean of potential problems. What about a national strategic food reserve?
While an international strategic food reserve does appear to exist, the foods stocks in the reserve would be gone in a matter of days.
By 2005, over half the world???s people will live in cities. Supplying them with safe and affordable food will strain the food supply and distribution chain to the breaking point. The challenge is greatest in the developing world???s cities, where urban poverty rates often exceed 50 percent. This interview with Olivio Argenti, FAO urban food security specialist, highlights some of the issues to be faced.
FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) demonstrated all too well how under-prepared they were for a regional disaster. Some people faced starvation in the hurricane Katrina aftermath. Thousands of animals did starve. FEMA’s lack of capability only underscores the real problem exhibited by the entire federal and state goverments, and that is responding after a disaster hits. The 9/11 terrorist attack was another prime example of too little, too late and evidence of a clear lack of planning and preparation.
Too many people believe that they will be “protected”, when it’s factually impossible to protect you. Nobody is immune from terrorism or biological contaminants. And nobody is going to be immune from increasing fuel costs, rising food costs and transportation shutdowns. As global climate change becomes more and more evident, escaping anywhere is going to be impossible.
Climate change is set to do far worse damage to global food production than even the gloomiest of previous forecasts, according to studies presented at the Royal Society in London, UK, on Tuesday.
???We need to seriously re-examine our predictions of future global food production,??? said Steve Long, a crop scientist at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, US. Output is ???likely to be far lower than previously estimated???.
But there is even a more immediate threat, in the form of the avian bird flu –
There is no vaccine and drugs are in short supply but Americans may be able to ride out any bird flu pandemic if they stock up on supplies and keep their children clean, the U.S. government said on Friday.
The Health and Human Services Department is warning people to get ready, now –
“During a pandemic, if you cannot get to a store, or if stores are out of supplies, it will be important for you to have extra supplies on hand. This can be useful in other types of emergencies, such as power outages and disasters,” the HHS guide says.
Here is what’s going to probably happen. As people finally start to wake up and realize that they are “on their own” and are facing a multitude of disasters of global proportions, they will start to line up at the stores and suppliers to buy their preparedness products. The more people line up, the longer the lines will become. And there won’t be anything you or I can do about it. The entire ‘just in time’ supply system in America and throughout the world is built around ‘normal demand’ cycles. There is zero capacity in the system to accomodate hundreds of thousands, or millions of people suddenly demanding food, medicine, vaccines or supplies. It is a physical impossibility to meet these demands in a timely fashion.
What will happen is a huge backlog of people waiting on goods will develop. During Y2K, we experienced 10 month wait times – in 1998! This was a year and half before Y2k, a “known event”. Nobody has that luxury anymore. The “known event” is only known for what it will be (among many) events – but we don’t know when. Bio-terror, bird flu, climate change, peak oil, good old fashioned earthquakes – all of these events are happening right now and it is only a matter of time before they become synchronized, hitting everywhere and everyone all at once. When that happens, everything is going to collapse, and I mean everything, because our social-economic structures are not designed with this type of necessary resilance in mind.
Plan for the possibility that usual services may be disrupted. These could include services provided by hospitals and other health care facilities, banks, stores, restaurants, government offices, and post offices.
It’s been a fair while since the influenza epidemic of 1917 – 1918, but estimates as high as 100 million people died, and 500 million were infected. Our interconnected systems are much more vulnerable now then they were back then. Only 4% of the population today are farmers. They didn’t have jet travel, oil tankers, terrorist, climate change, and a vastly expanded population. A pandemic outbreak today would be devestating, with estimates of “US worst-case estimate is anywhere between 200,000 and 1.9 million deaths with 92 million others becoming ill. ”
Just to give you an idea how serious the US considers this pandemic threat, the paltry few million designated for terrorist threats to our food supply pales to the $7 billion presently earmarked for pandemic.
The threat would happen almost instantaneously –
The government annnounced in early December 2005 that they had modeled a theoretical outbreak of human to human bird flu in Thailand, which produced an estimate of up to 722,000 cases just 6 weeks later across America, rising to 92 million cases just 10 weeks after that.
Jeffery K. Taubenberger and David M. Morens of the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology thinks that avian bird flue pandemic would easily exceed 100 million deaths –
Even with modern antiviral and antibacterial drugs, vaccines, and prevention knowledge, the return of a pandemic virus equivalent in pathogenicity to the virus of 1918 would likely kill >100 million people worldwide. A pandemic virus with the (alleged) pathogenic potential of some recent H5N1 outbreaks could cause substantially more deaths.
Apparently, the Center for Disease control does too – the article is posted on their website. And bear in mind, the vaccine doesn’t even exist!
Clearly, a multitude of threats are facing every human alive today – and these threats are growing. What can you do? Perhaps the worst thing you can do is nothing. The best thing you can do is to prepare for disruptions before shortages and long lines develop. You need to address the essentials first. Water, food, shelter, clothing, medicine, these are the things you need to survive. Depending upon the government or the private sector to always provide them for you is courting disaster. You need to plan ahead and make your preparations now.
The scope of this article does not include all the preparations you should be making, but we do sell storable food in bulk quantities, with shelf life 10 – 20 years in typical storage conditions. This is food that you need and can safely set away while you still can. This is the same food you eat now, except it comes in airtight sealed containers with oxygen absorbers to ensure long life. We want you to bear in mind that the available food supply is limited and can only accommodate so many people at any given time. If you’re planning on waiting for pandemic, or another terrorist attack, or peak oil, forget it. No amount of money would put you at the head of a very, very long line. Get your food storage now before panic strikes and the food supply system is instantly overwhelmed. You will be glad you did.