Notes on today's food supply hearing : LUSENET : TimeBomb 2000 (Y2000) : One Thread

Observations from notes I scribbled (and can actually read). See particularly comments from Bennett and Evans.

Dodd: food processors need 6-9 months lead time to gear up for increased production. [This might help explain why Glickman refers to stockpiling food as "needless and frivolous." Perhaps in August or September Glickman will tell us it's okay to panic now.]

Glickman noted 50 years ago produce was sold within 50 miles of where it was grown. Not so today. Distribution is VERY high-tech, even smaller farms.

No widespread or severe disruption in food supply. Any will be minor, localized by region.

USDA hired Gartner Group to assess. Assessment not complete, much work to be done, but by and large food supply will remain reliable.

USDA looked at about 50% of food distributors, who deal in basic foods; they're in good shape. Of course, few are immune from ANY interruptions, but only minor problems, few delays.

Rural utilities: Glickman says looked at over 50% of borrowers, most indicate will be okay by Y2K. Transportation: larger firms further ahead than smaller ones. International shipping: generally lagging United States.

Food distribution in general: Will likely have a relatively low potential for problems. [What the hell does THAT mean?] There's some risk in the short-term for perishables.

There are 20 million on food stamps. USDA expects program to be fully compliant by government deadline of March 31. As for the states, food stamps and WIC program (responsible for local distribution), the results are "promising."

Slight mention that benefits are now by means of EBT (electronic benefit transfer).

Glickman spoke of "fearmongers," scaring people--things are working very well with the food supply.

Bennett: Big problem is source of info on which USDA relies. Gartner assessed 100 major businesses to reach its conclusions re food supply. For 85 of those 100, Gartner looked at SEC filings, press releases, annual reports, etc., i./e., self-reporting. Committee has found that self-reported info tends to be overly optimistic in every circumstance. This is what's found when GAO checks numbers. E.g., Dept of Defense--when GAO checked figures, not what was self-reported. Glickman agreed best face is put on things. Catherine Woteki, undersec for food safety, says she "is reasonably assured" things will be okay.

Bennett asked about mission critical band. Woteki said most organizations are working across the board, not just on mission criticals. But her focus is on mission criticals.

Bennett wondered if the Senate would be working on Y2K and asked the Sergeant at Arms, who is responsible for the computers. The man's response was "really kinda frightening," he said. S at A said all mission criticals would be working, but Bennett wondered about definition of mission critical. For instance, copy machines not deemed mission critical by S at A. If you're running for office and need to get out a mailing, copy machines are mission critical, but S at A didn't see it that way. Sure, you have all summer to fix mission criticals, but remember the copier.

Glickman warbled a bit about how Ag is agent for thrift savings plan and big payroll entity. Sounded as if he was about to lay groundwork for not enough personnel, too much to do, etc.

Smith (R-Oregon) is a food processor. Says Ag production good, mostly in oversupply right now. Most of oversupply goes overseas. Focus ought to be on international Y2K compliance, commodities will be backing up in this country.

Schumacher, undersec for [illegible] and foreign service, believes Canada and Japan in reasomnably good shape. Europe, UK, okay, Mexico "has a little more work to do." Russia - concerned, they'll have to work that really hard.

In talking about food quality and international shipping in computerized, "climate controlled" containers, Michael Dunn, undersec for marketing service, says Coast Guard will stop any non-compliant ships from entering US ports.

Anne Reed, Chief Information Officer, USDA, independent assessments all leading to samew conclusion as Gartner Group. Trade assoc. info, another source of Y2K compliance info, simialr type of assessment.

Smith is worried that resources for Y2K will be taken from foreign food inspection, got to have safe food, imports must meet USDA standards. $38 billion of food is imported, about 5-6 percent of total. Breaks down as 60% of all seafood is imported, 40% of fruits (mostly bananas), and about 6-10% of vegetables. That's fresh stuff. Processed, canned, "lots" imported, doesn't have stats, doesn't know how much offhand.

But basic foods will be there, meat poultry, bread, milk, baby food. Most milk producers are computerised, can be overriden. Distribution is JIT, they're very much on top of the problem.

Dodd: Japan is only in the awareness phase. "Very far behind." Exports of about 1.2 billion.

Shumacher says problem in Japan is internal distribution.

Bennett (I think): Of 500 food processors survyed at end of year, only three have replied.

USDA says their optimism comes from round-table discussions with trade associations. Dairy association, "very forthcoming." Meat and poultry, "their awareness is heightened." Trade associations have been very actively polling their membership about Y2K. Glickman will let them know of Committee's concerns.

Next up was Tyrone Thayer, President of Cargill, which employs 80,000 people in 65 countries. Has spent $385 million in IT services, $80-100,000 in capital investment in high tech every year. Will be ready for Y2K. Also will have contingency plans for transportation, energy and strategic products.

Says need for "overstockpiling" is "not prudent."

Bennett says what if next September there's a surge in demand.

Thayer says they supply raw ingredients to customers, procesors, looking at key strategic processes, that may be a problem. Overseas plants are 80% compliant, main concern is transportation. When questioned about possible overseas infrastructure problems, Thayer more or less sidestepped the question. Would Cargill pull out of any overseas location for inability to provide infrastructure? No. (But had to discuss with cohort before answering.)

Allen Dickerson, CIO of Suiza Foods, largest dairy processor in country, plastic producer. Rural electric cooperatives his biggest concern. Transportation re farmers getting milk to them, pretty good, but coal to power plastic plant may be a problem.

Bennett is satisfied that large power plants will be okay.

Ken Evans, Pres, Arizona Farm Bureau: Is very concerned about Y2K. Gave example of insurance co. testing Y2K compliance, changed date, rolled over to Saturday, January 1, 2000, no problem. However, on Tuesday got calls from hundred of irate customers--their insurance had been cancelled. Soemthing to do with main computer passing info to smaller PC with firewall, couldn't handle Y2K info, so cancelled insurance for about a thousand people.

Gave example of large piece of farm equipment--chip problem. Couldn't handle Y2K date calculations, went into eternal loop. Had to scrap, couldn't be fixed, even when date turned back. Seems even though chips looked same, same codes and all, some were from different batches, some good, some bad. No way to tell which is which, just have to wait for failure.

Bennett said similar thing happened to medical equipment, told about it at another hearing.

When asked, Evans said, very calmly and matter of factly, he's stockpiling food, fuel and water and has generator. And is doing same for his employees.

The two food processors will stockpile raw materials.

-- Old Git (, February 05, 1999


Thank you!

What were you taking notes on? A senate hearing? will there be a transcript?

One point: When the big Gartner report came out last fall "98...the one with all the charts and that was based on various types of industries in various countries...remember that ...the pretty red to green charts....

In that report, Agriculture was one of the areas that was really, really lagging. In this country as well as in others although much worse in others.

How did they get so good so fast?

Mary P.

-- Mary P. (, February 05, 1999.

Mary, it was the Senate Committee on the Year 2000 Technology Problem, Food Safety, I think. Sen. Robert Bennett, R-Utah, is the chair. Two things I forgot: One, thanks, Joyce, for giving the head's up to catch this at 4 p.m., and two, I don't remember hearing Glickman actually say stockpiling food is "needless and frivolous," although it was reported thus from advance press hand-outs. I could have missed it during a brain cramp, but I don't think so. Perhaps he changed his mind and talked about fearmongers instead. Shifts the blame, doesn't it, from the consumer to the fearmongers. Whoever they are. Us, I guess. If this hearing is repeated on C-SPAN, and I think it will be, I urge everyone to watch it if they can. See the Ag Dept sec and minions wiggle when Bennett gets going! Don't forget, Mary, the optimistic assessment came from 3 replies to a survey and from self-reporting "round table" discussions--thanks to Bennett for making it clear.

-- Old Git (, February 05, 1999.

Old Git, Thanks for sharing your notes. You did a lot of work for us. Sure do appreciate the help.

-- Watchful (, February 05, 1999.

Old Git, here is the AP Wire that contained the statement about "needless and frivolous". I think you are correct that he didn't "say" this during the actual testimony today.

Y2K Food Shortages Said Unlikely

Y2K Food Shortages Said Unlikely

By TED BRIDIS Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON (AP) - Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman says it is unlikely the Year 2000 computer problem will cause widespread food shortages, partly because few U.S. farmers use high-tech systems that might be susceptible.

``The American public can be confident that the major domestic companies, which provide most of the key foods, will continue to operate,'' Glickman wrote in prepared testimony for his appearance today before a Senate committee.

Instead, Glickman warned consumers against ``needless and frivolous stockpiling of supplies.''

He promised his agency would work with the Federal Emergency Management Agency to distribute food if there were shortages.

Mr. K

-- Mr. Kennedy (, February 05, 1999.

The food supply hearing is being replayed right now again (10:53 PM EST) on C-SPAN 1. If you have RealPlayer, you can watch it at this link:

By the way, I just heard Dick Lugar testify that the GartnerGroup suggests an "information dessimination" campaign to assure the public that food supplies will be adequate in 2000.

-- Kevin (, February 05, 1999.

-- Kevin (, February 05, 1999.

Thanks Old Git! Good job.

Tried a quick look for the written transcripts but not sure it's available yet.


-- Diane J. Squire (, February 06, 1999.

I didn't editorialize much when I typed up my notes, wanted y'all to get the full, unadulterated flavor as much as possible. But there's a bit of the testimony that really worries me. When Bennett pointed out that the emperor was starkers, i.e., that only three of the 500 top food producers surveyed had answered the survey as of January, and expresseded wonderment that enough had answered since then to give rise to the optimism exhibited by USDA, the USDA's Chief Information Officer (I think she was) said the department's "optimism comes from round-table discussions with trade associations. Dairy association, 'very forthcoming.' Meat and poultry, 'their awareness is heightened.' Trade associations have been very actively polling their membership about Y2K. Glickman will let them know of Committee's concerns."

The words "very forthcoming," heightened awareness, and active polling did not reassure me sufficiently to call the Food Bank to come and get my supplies. When Glickman stood up and said he would let the food distributors/processors "know of the Committee's concerns," as he gathered up his papers and left the hearing, the only emotion I felt was apprehension--then anger at such lack of concern. He'll "let them know"? This is the only action he's going to take about the 497 companies who didn't answer the survey? Well, they can sit at their little round tables and talk nice-nice all they want, but it's not going to convince me that they have their Y2K problems under control. Now, if someone can only tell me at which point stockpiling becomes overstockpiling. . . I think when Mr. Thayer prudently puts away raw materials and such for his company (and probably several months of food for his family), that's stockpiling. When you and I put away rice and beans and such, that's overstockpiling. Just looked at the original quote: Thayer "[s]ays need for 'overstockpiling' is 'not prudent.' Didn't notice that until now. Thayer doesn't deny there's a NEED to "overstockpile," just that it's not prudent to do so. Why didn't he just say there's no need to overstockpile?

As Greybear might say, got overstockpiles?

-- Old Git (, February 06, 1999.

Wow... and these people are paid to traipse up to capitol hill and say things like "...stop noncompliant ships." ???

I wonder how they will do that? Will noncompliant ships have the words "NONCOMPLIANT" painted on the bow? Perhaps the Coast Guard will stop them and ask them to fill out a form?

And "overstockpiling" is not prudent...does that mean "stockpiling" is prudent?

Three responses and roundtable discussions (probably at a Georgetown restaurant with 'industry' picking up the tab...) gives them the insight to make this wonderfully detailed and fact-filled analysis.

Thanks Old Git...You've restored my lack of faith in bureaucrats.

-- PNG (, February 06, 1999.

The thing that struck me most about the hearing was when Lugar expressed his concern that the USDA went from 40%compliance on over 1000 systems to 70% compliance on less than 400 systems. He still isn't comfortable that 600 systems are all of a sudden no longer critical. That's one of those reporting problems we keep hearing about.

-- margie mason (, February 06, 1999.

It was also noteworthy that Senator Bennett questioned the accuracy of the GartnerGroup's report on food industry compliance. Bennett said the figures were self-reported by the companies, and represented only the compliance level of the largest players in the industry.

-- (, February 06, 1999.

Margie, your point is the one that gets my attention about reports from the govt. that their "percentages" look good, but they've reduced the classification of many previously listed mission critical systems. ESPECIALLY the Dept. of Defense.

Mr. K

-- Mr. K (, February 06, 1999.

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