Op-ed: Commissioner deserves credit for solving meat-inspection problem, not blame

Op-ed: Commissioner deserves credit for solving meat-inspection problem, not blame

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The free press was once esteemed as the fourth branch of government, or fourth estate. This week’s reporting about the Utah Department of Agriculture and Food (UDAF) by The Salt Lake Tribune demonstrates how that responsibility has been forsaken. Instead, we get deadline-driven stories lacking true oversight on UDAF and its current and former employees.

The accusations levied against Commissioner LuAnn Adams and current UDAF employees was concerning not only as elected officials with legislative oversight, but also as taxpayers. We immediately reached out to UDAF to understand what really happened at the Dale T. Smith facility in Draper and with Warren Hess.

UDAF did lose authority to continue meat inspections at the Dale T. Smith facility. This was the result of an audit by USDA that found on-sight UDAF veterinarians were certifying cattle they had not been visually inspecting. The oversight of the on-sight veterinarians was under the authority of Hess, the acting state veterinarian at the time.

Veterinarians were certifying meat they had not seen. Veterinarians had been arriving hours after the plant had opened and were incorrectly signing off on work that had been completed at the plant prior to their arrival. When this was brought to the attention of Adams, she immediately made changes.

The people that had direct oversight of the problem, like Hess, walked off the job and took to social and traditional media to deflect blame. These important facts of the situation were omitted from recent media coverage of Adams and UDAF.

Adams has recently hired a new state veterinarian, Barry Pittman. Pittman, in addition to being a licensed veterinarian, has a master’s degree in public health and has served as the director of Emergency Programs Division for the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. Most recently he worked as the Utah front line supervisor for the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service who oversees all of the meat inspection facilities in the state. Pittman also served 13 years as a veterinarian in the U.S. Army. If we were to identify the perfect combination of background and experience for the state vet position, Pittman is the perfect fit.

The sign of a true leader is one who accepts responsibility for making a mistake and takes the action necessary to stop that mistake from happening in the future. Adams had employees who made mistakes. She promptly dealt with the issue and put in a process to prevent it from happening again. We appreciate the work of Adams and her team as we continue to work together to protect Utah’s food system.

Rep. Michael K. McKell has served District 66 in Utah County in the Utah House of Representatives since 2012. He co-chairs the Natural Resources, Agriculture and Environmental Quality Appropriations Subcommittee. Rep. Lee Perry has served District 29 in Box Elder and Weber Counties in the Utah House of Representatives since 2010. He is a member of the Natural Resources, Agriculture and Environmental Quality Appropriations Subcommittee.