Editor's Plate: Your Moral Obligations

Oct. 20, 2014
Seems like a good month to look at the good, the bad and the criminal in this business.

One news story of the past month should serve as a harsh lesson for anyone associated with the sanctity of your company’s food and beverage products.

Back in mid-September, three people connected with Peanut Corp. of America were convicted of various criminal charges for intentionally allowing peanut products tainted with salmonella into the food supply, apparently killing nine people and sickening 714 in 43 states.

It took five years (the outbreak occurred in late 2008 to early 2009), but justice finally was brought to bear on owner/CEO Stewart Parnell; his brother, Michael Parnell, a food broker associated with the company; and Mary Wilkerson, who apparently was both a receptionist and the plant’s quality control manager – figure that one out. Two other employees pleaded guilty earlier.

They saw test results that indicated salmonella, faked other test results just to get the product out the door (and the money rolling in) and duped dozens of reputable food processors who made and distributed the final, consumer products. And, in the process, killed nine people.

The three were guilty of numerous charges, but they weren’t charged with murder or even manslaughter. The local U.S. Attorney, whose office prosecuted the case, was reported in local media as saying he had doubts about whether death evidence would be admissible, or whether convictions in the case would be vulnerable to appeals if the trial judge allowed the jury to hear that people died. Instead, they prosecuted what essentially was a fraud case.

It’s this kind of thing that gives the food industry a black eye. Like this one, many of the wounds are self-inflicted. So it seemed a good time to take a semi-comprehensive look at the good and the bad done by the food & beverage industry and to ponder why so many consumers have a negative perception of our business.

That’s my way of introducing our cover story, “Why Is Big Food Bad?” In it, we take a look at why the food industry – which touches people’s lives at least three times a day – has gotten such a bad rap.

It’s a complex subject, a real conundrum. As we point out, there’s some evidence to support the bad rap. Food safety scares, over-zealous marketing and catering to Wall Street. But there’s also the incredible positives. Your companies are creators of the most abundant, safest and cheapest food supply in the world. And collectively you have a moral obligation to find ways of feeding 9 billion people expected in this world by 2050 without exhausting or endangering the planet.

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