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Disaster Scenarios that Disrupt the Food Supply
The News - Disaster Preparedness
August 15, 2013
PREPPING FOOD SUPPLY
As promised in my previous post, today I’ll discuss the types of SHTF scenarios that may disrupt the food supply. The type of disruption varies from much higher prices, to lack of availability of certain staple food, to a temporary shutdown of grocery stores.

I don’t want to spend too much time discussing severe and very unlikely The End Of The World As We Know It scenarios. Obviously, if there is a complete breakdown of the economy, of society or of civilization, you won’t be taking that weekly trip to the supermarket. It’s The End Of The Supermarket As We Know It (TEOTSAWKI). But you also won’t be able to deal with such a severe event or set of events with ordinary prudent preparedness. I’m not prepped for TEOTWAWKI, and most of you are not either. It’s just too expensive and too much of a disruption of normal life to prepare for complete independence from the economy and society. [PREPBLOG]

So let’s consider more likely disasters that might keep you away from the supermarket for a few weeks, or that might cause longer lasting but intermittent disruptions in the food supply chain, or higher prices. I’m not referring to ordinary inflation in food prices. The issue here is a sudden sharp jump in food prices, for certain staple foods or across the board.

The Drought

The current very severe drought in the U.S. has been going on, continuously, since summer of 2012. And there was still a drought before that time; it was simply less widespread. Right now, the drought covers 45% of the continental U.S., but almost all of that area is west of the Mississippi. See the U.S. Drought Monitor. I’d keep an eye on this problem, if I were me.

Sooner or later, the drought is going to put such a burden on the agricultural system in the U.S. that higher prices will be inevitable. Corn and soy are the biggest concerns. These two crops are mainly used to feed livestock. Higher corn and soy prices means higher livestock feed prices, which means higher prices for beef, pork, chicken, and farm-raised fish. Yes, even farmed fish are fed a corn/soy mixture. The average American diet is high in meat and poultry. So higher livestock feed prices could have a big effect on price.

The other issue is availability. When feed prices jumped in fall of last year, producers culled their herds. They sold off their animals to slaughter, to cut the cost of feed. They simply could not afford to feed all of their animals. This had the effect of reducing the number of livestock animals nationwide. The result of this reduction could eventually be a reduced availability of beef, pork, and poultry. If prices go up, and yet demand does not ease, the system will run out of supply.

Fukushima

You remember, a while back, how an undersea earthquake triggered a tsunami that caused a power plant disaster. What you might not know is that, many miles away, there was a run on the grocery stores in Tokyo. Now that immense city was not affected by the tsunami, nor by radioactive fallout. Yet the people there rushed to the stores and stripped the shelves bare of food. The markets had to close, and they were not resupplied for days. Food supplies took a couple of weeks to recover.

The set of events that triggered that run on groceries was rare. It’s not going to happen in your area, right? But dozens of other disasters could have much the same effect. People could respond to an approaching superstorm (or the aftermath of one), or to a moderate earthquake, or to any number of disasters or potential disasters by rushing to the store and stocking up on food. But the current Just In Time distribution system is not set up to handle sudden spikes in demand. How long it would take for the food production and distribution system to recover is largely unknown.

Power Outages

Any number of disasters can cause a power outage of a few days or longer: hurricanes, superstorms, blizzards, a blackout due to grid failure, etc. The result at the local supermarket is that all the frozen and refrigerated food goes bad. This happened a few years ago, when I was living in Florida. A moderate hurricane knocked out power for a few days. But it took much longer for supermarkets to be re-supplied with frozen and refrigerated foods.

A longer outage would mean no refrigerated or frozen foods. This increases demand for non-perishable foods, making those foods also less available or unavailable. It’s a domino effect. Our current food production and distribution system is alarmingly vulnerable to disruption.

Economics

A partial economic collapse could make food prices jump. It could also put a few large companies that dominate the food production and distribution system out of business. You remember the problems on Wall Street, when several too-big-to-fail companies failed, and the government bailed them out. The problem was that too few companies control the money supply for the financial industry. But the same is true for agriculture and groceries. There are relatively few companies that control most of the food system, and if a few fail, either the government bails them out, at an immense cost to taxpayers, or there will be a huge disruption in the food supply. But even with a bail out, fear alone could drive a run on the supermarkets, stripping shelves bare.

Other disasters could also have much the same effect. What can we do to prepare? Have some stored food, at least one or two months’ worth. Keep your kitchen well-stocked also, to get you through some of the shorter-term disasters. If you have the inclination and the resources, it is worth buying some freeze-dried foods; you get a wider variety of meals and the food keeps very well.

 
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