business news in context, analysis with attitude

The Chicago Tribune reported over the weekend that while all the publicity late last week focused on the vulnerability of the nation's power supply grid, it actually helped to highlight the ways in which the food supply could be susceptible to attack. "Though the nation's food supply chain - the path from farms to our tables - has come under increasing scrutiny, experts question its ability to withstand attacks," the paper reported. "Many of the nation's largest food companies, they say, are working in a dangerous vacuum where vital studies are classified and data required to help make informed judgments is kept under lock and key."

In addition, while big companies have addressed some of the important food security issues facing the country, smaller firms are at risk because they may have neither the knowledge nor the resources to deal with these issues. There also has been, according some experts quoted in the story, a kind of paralysis in the food industry because of doubts about terrorists' ability to spread disease through the food supply.

"The average food plant is less secure than many electronics plants," Margaret Ann Daley, a vice president at the consulting and investigation arm of Pinkerton, told the paper. " The electronics folks have been more worried about theft for years and, as a result, have become much more sophisticated when it comes to understanding who is working for them, perimeter security and access to plants."

There is some good news, however. The Tribune reports that "over the past year, new federal cash has gone toward boosting food inspections at the country's ports of entry, augmenting local emergency management and public health budgets, and providing laboratory help. It has not been spent on educating smaller firms and providing funding to help them better guard against a would-be aggressor." But, "at the end of the year, new FDA regulations will increase the agency's powers and are expected to strengthen the food chain against a potential attack."

The question has been whether these rules go far enough - or go too far, and will only succeed in stifling the ability of food companies to conduct business.
KC's View:
By and large, Americans comported themselves with dignity and resilience during last week's blackout. A lot of us had been through it before, and so were able to quickly lay our hands on flashlights and candles, knew enough to eat the stuff the might go bad, and start neighborhood parties as a way of dealing with the dark.

If suddenly there was a massive problem with the food supply, because a lapse in food security meant that a lot of the products sold in our stores were suspect, we're not entirely sure that people would be as calm. We all knew last Thursday that eventually the lights would go back on, and that daylight would be there 15 hours a day to illuminate our world.

There might be no such reassurance in the event of major food security problems.