Uncomfortable Realities 

This week's main feature from BW News Editor George Prentice "Got Milk? Got Drugs? Got Both?" is about a touchy subject. Anytime we're talking about potential contamination of the nation's food supply--be it one hamburger patty with traces of a banned drug or hundreds of bushels of E. coli-carrying spinach--it's an uncomfortable subject. It's unwanted attention for producers doing things by the book. It's bad news for retailers. It's alarming for consumers.

And whether you know it or not, it seems there's some gray area when it comes to reporting the possible extent of food contamination to the public. In Prentice's story, for instance, one state senator says that if there is a problem and it's handled properly, the public may not necessarily need to know about it. It's when the problem does not have a solution that the public should be made aware.

The public may disagree.

During the course of reporting this story, the state agency appointed to regulate the dairy industry and protect the public gave us a hard time because we wanted to ask a few questions that might have been uncomfortable for officials to answer--and that's not to say anything of industry reps who wouldn't return phone calls because they simply don't like our publication.

In the words of that same state senator: "The last thing any Idaho dairyman wants is for someone to read a story in your paper that builds suspicion of people where they don't buy any more milk or cheese."

And the last thing we want to do is publish a story that unnecessarily builds suspicion among the public. But when the alleged offenders decline to comment on their actions--be they reactive or proactive--it raises more suspicion than federal tests likely have thus far.

If, after this story hits newsstands, the Idaho Dairymen's Association or any of the dairies we contacted for comment have a change of heart and would like to comment, we hope they contact us. Whether they conducted one test or a hundred, whether the results were clean or showed areas for improvement, our guess is that after reading Prentice's story, the public will want to know.

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