Y2K Today: 3 of 500 Food Industry Assoc's Give Y2K Info - Dodd Upset

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Food Industry Not Forthcoming, U.S. Senator Says 2/5/99 Author: Charles Dervarics

Washington, D.C., February 5, 1999, (y2ktoday) -- A U.S. senator Friday criticized food industry leaders for failing to provide up-to-date information about their Year 2000 preparedness, even as some federal officials moved to calm fears about food shortages after Jan. 1.

Sen. Christopher Dodd (D-Conn.) voiced concerns after learning that only three of 500 food industry trade associations have complied with a U.S. Department of Agriculture request to provide Y2K readiness information.

"This is very disturbing to me, and not at all helpful," Dodd said at the first hearing this year of the Senate's Committee on the Year 2000 Technology Problem. He criticized the industry for a pattern of unresponsiveness on the issue.

The committee wanted to hold a hearing last fall on the food industry and Y2K, "but no one would testify," Dodd said. Borrowing a page from talk show host David Letterman, the senator offered the "top 9 reasons" food companies do not want to testify, including, he noted, "we have nothing to gain and everything to lose."

"Some consumers have interpreted the chilling corporate silence as inactivity," Dodd added. "In an attempt to avoid being associated with Y2K, the food industry may have inadvertently contributed to public fear."

The latest request for company information came as part of USDA's work with President Clinton's Council on Year 2000 Conversion. USDA said it will intensify efforts to get information, particularly before a March deadline to report back to the Senate committee.

Despite some lack of information, however, Y2K progress among the food industry is "encouraging," Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman said.

"An interruption in the food supply so severe as to threaten the well-being and basic comfort of the American public is unlikely," he told the panel. Consumers should face only minor interruptions, with imported fruits and vegetables perhaps most vulnerable because of foreign countries' inability to certify transportation, utility and computer systems as Y2K-compliant.

In the U.S., 81 percent of farmers are aware of the Y2K problem, but only 32 percent use automated systems - and primarily just for recordkeeping, Glickman said. Fewer than 3 percent use automated systems for feeding and storage, ventilation or milking systems.

Among major producers, milk manufacturers are "well underway" in their Y2K planning and should complete work by summer, the USDA chief said. Other efforts are underway to receive information from meat and poultry industries, wholesalers and retailers and food distributors.

However, Glickman said industry should do more to ease public concern about potential Y2K-related food shortages. USDA soon will encourage producers, grocers, wholesalers and retailers to issue public statements "verifying" their ability to continue despite the Y2K problem.

"If the major players, who in many cases are competitors, could be persuaded to issue a joint statement, that would be even better," the secretary said.

Two food companies, Cargill Inc. and Suiza Foods Corp., did share information with the committee about their Y2K efforts. A processor of salt, cocoa, corn-based sweeteners, beef and poultry, Cargill has worked since 1996 to assess computer systems that control product temperatures, time clocks and weigh scales. So far, the company has updated 65 percent of key plant systems, said Tyrone Thayer, company vice president.

Suiza, a processor and distributor of dairy products, has a Y2K project management and hopes to become 100 percent compliant by June.

However, the committee heard no information from the makers of some of America's most popular food products. Perhaps these companies do not want to risk testifying because, Dodd says, "brand loyalty is extremely fragile."

Related Articles:

Agriculture Chief Says Food Shortages 'Unlikely' Due to Y2K Bug (y2ktoday, 2/5/99)


Charles Dervarics is a freelance writer who frequently covers legislation and public policy issues.

-- duh (not surprised@this.news), February 07, 1999


During the testimony, Senator Bennett questioned the accuracy of the GartnerGroup's optimistic report on food industry compliance. Bennett said the GartnerGroup's report was based on self-reported information from the industry, such as the SEC filings.

Bennett also said the report only covered the compliance of the very largest companies in the food industry, which tend to have the most resources to become Y2K compliant.

-- Kevin (mixesmusic@worldnet.att.net), February 07, 1999.

My apologies if this question was already posed/addressed. Supervalue store CEO was on the slate to testify at the Food Industry Hearings the other day. However, to my knowledge they did not participate. Supervalue is the company that owned Cheaper Foods that folded due to a lack of Y2K remediation money (apparently they were in dire straits already). I don't have cable so didn't catch CSPAN coverage. And from what I've piqued from the posts here, there's no mention of SV. Did they testify?

-- Other Lisa (LisaWard2@aol.com), February 07, 1999.

Thanks for these posts. Very disconcerting! Keep well and keep digging.

-- Watchful (seethesea@msn.com), February 07, 1999.

Mrs. Big Dog was reading this over my shoulder and noticed immediately that while only 32% of farms may well rely on automation, they probably account for 80% (?) of our food production.

Arf Arf

-- BigDog (BigDog@duffer.com), February 07, 1999.

And, as usual, the only two talking in public were those who had started on-time (1995-1997) and spent enough money early enough, and were close to finishing.

No wonder they could report progress. Now, where the H**l is everybody else?

You can't extrapolate silence to mean remediation. You can't extrapolate "wishes" from a federal bureacrat to indicate compliance and success across an entire industry based on two companies in that industry. And, at best, you can only hope "complete remediation" means the company has found, solved and removed enough problems that the ones not discovered yet won't interupt their deliveries next year.

-- Robert A. Cook, PE (Kennesaw, GA) (cook.r@csaatl.com), February 07, 1999.

It still takes fuel to move the food to the public. With a projected 70% failure of refining facilities and a very real prospect of severely curtailed or unavailable gasoline and diesel fuel, it is rather pointless to assure us there will be food in the year 2000 if that food is unavailable to the consumer at their location.

-- Ann Fisher (zyax55b@prodigy.com), February 07, 1999.

Aaack! Who projected a 70% failure of refineries. Is there a URL for this? What was this projection based on? How did I miss that?

-- Flint (flintc@mindspring.com), February 07, 1999.

the bottom line is that the food processors by and large have tons of embedded systems, and more importantly, how are they going to tell their shareholders that a large percentage of the profits are going to have to be thrown at Y2K to bring them up to snuff????more important however, the majority of their systems have embedded chips, absolutely nobody knows where to find the programmers, as these are old programs, and they more than likely are flat out of business, via the automated process. good luck getting food out to the distribution level!!!!!

-- Joe Ledoux (joe@jps.net), February 08, 1999.

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