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Commentary: Who Made the Naughty List for 2018

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By Gary Truitt

As we approach the Christmas holiday, Old St. Nick is busy making his list and checking it twice to find out who was naughty and nice.  While this is not by any means an exhaustive review, here are a few things that most likely made it to the food and agriculture part of the naughty list for 2018.

Topping the list is a newcomer: Romaine Lettuce. A complete nationwide recall of every green leaf was the #1 food story of the year and was an embarrassment for healthy eating salad advocates.   Even the organic producers had to do some duck and cover and admit their products were not exempt.  This incident resulted in a quick, but belated, move by the FDA to start insisting on origin and tracking labels on fresh greens, something beef and pork producers have had to do for years.

Wheat flour also grabbed a prominent place on the naughty list this year. Again, concerns about salmonella was the cause.  Some cake mixes were recalled and the admonition not to consume raw cookie dough was reinforced.  Previously it was the fear of salmonella in the eggs, but it is the wheat that has experts worried about the consumption of raw cookie dough now.

Ground beef is a perennial member of the naughty list; and, again this year, there were several recalls. Once a major news story, the media and most consumers have become numb to the warnings. You would think that by now the meat processing industry would have found a way to eliminate some of these issues.

As America’s obsession with pets continues to grow, concern about pet food safety increases. This year, several dog and cat food products made the naughty list.  Once a place where food products unfit for human consumption were sent, today “pet parents” are demanding higher quality food products for their furry family members.  Expect this trend to continue. It may well be that a pet food scare could top the list in 2019.

Critics of our modern food production system like to point to these recalls as evidence that our food is unsafe. In reality, they are proof of just the opposite.  The regulation and testing that takes place captures the relatively small amount of food products that are unsafe. This fact gets lost in the news coverage of a recall. For example, in November the FDA issued a recall on Captain Crunch cereal. Headlines screamed the recall, but only in the small print did you learn that only 21 boxes in the whole country were contaminated, and they were only sold by one retailer.

Individuals making the naughty list in 2018 included Wayne Pacelle of HSUS. Accused of sexual harassment and a coverup, the high-profile, animal rights advocate was dethroned in a major scandal that tarnished the organization but did not dull its effectiveness.  EPA administrator Scott Pruett also made the list and lost his job because of the many scandals at the agency and because of the revelation that the EPA used social media to try to lobby against the repeal of the WOTUS.

The new year will begin with many key ag issues unresolved, including the China trade war, immigration, and the possible reorganization of the USDA. Several food fights also loom over fake meat and over what constitutes milk. From all of us at Hoosier Ag Today, have a happy and blessed Christmas.