Every now and then, life hands us an easy decision: One thing is right and another is wrong. When that happens, it doesn't matter much about the context of what's at issue. It's easy to see which direction to move.
Good example: Last week Supervalu moved quickly when it learned that its packer apparently delivered to it ground meat contaminated by pathogens. The wholesaler issued a speedy voluntary recall in areas known to have received contaminated product, and also initiated a wider recall just in case some of the product had strayed. Finally, Supervalu also instructed its independent retailers to recall product and give consumer refunds.
So, in this case, it was evident enough what to do, and Supervalu did it (See Page 4). Many times, though, a situation presents competing sides, each of which present a complex amalgam of right and wrong. In such cases, it's far from clear what to do and having to select from options that all contain elements of right and wrong makes decision making far more complex and burdensome.
This column easily could be pointing to the competing issues in the current presidential contest, but it's not. Instead, let's pick up a complex issue that's much closer to home. It's also one that presents competing arguments, each one just about as cogent as the other. It's the issue of StarLink corn, the topic of a few previous columns and several news articles in SN in recent weeks.
You'll recall that StarLink is the genetically modified corn that has been approved for industrial uses and as animal feed, but which hasn't been approved for human consumption. The fear is that the corn could cause allergies in people.
This is the same corn that first surfaced in taco shells, then, it was learned over time, may very well be a minute component of nearly everything now being made from yellow corn. The maker of the genetically modified process has vowed to stop distribution of the seed, so this problem will resolve itself in time.
But the issue of what to do with the vast amounts of corn now in the distribution system that may contain minute traces of StarLink remains to haunt retailers, manufacturers and regulatory agencies alike. Indeed, the lurking corn in the food chain could cost untold sums to all involved, so the stakes are huge.
The federal agency in charge of purging this corn from the food chain is the Environmental Protection Agency. But the EPA need not purge the corn at all. It could also decide that the risk to humans posed by the corn is so slight that it may as well just permit the modified corn to cycle through the food chain for the next four years or so it would take to get rid of it.
This is a tough one, so the EPA seated some experts to noodle out the situation and see which science could be put to work in the decision-making process. The panelists really didn't reach a decision, nor were they asked to do so. They acknowledged in a report that some risk to consumers could exist, but also pointed out that the risk is exceedingly low. It also said that no more than 14 people have stepped up to complain of allergic reactions. Actually that very fact may lend this issue some clarity: If no more people than that even think they may have suffered some minor harm, let's let the industry off the hook on this one.