A couple of years ago, I was preparing to walk through a processing plant, and I had put on (almost) all the required personal protective equipment: shoe covers, coat, hairnet, beard net, helmet. The one thing I forgot to do was put on the earplugs that I was given. I just slung them around my neck and forgot about them, as I was talking with my tour guide. I made it all of about 10 feet onto the plant floor when the plant manager spotted me, walked over and told me to put them in place.

Imagine if I had told him that while I appreciated his suggestion, I wanted to do my own research about the benefits of earplugs. Furthermore, the hairnet was going to cause my hair follicles to die from oxygen deprivation, and washing my hands before walking onto the shop floor was just a ploy that Big Soap wanted you to believe. How quickly do you suppose my plant tour would have come to an abrupt end?

One thing I have admired about the meat industry is the reliance on sound science. Everything in the industry, from cook time to cooling time to shelf life, is used because research verified that number or that process. Science isn’t always perfect, and sometimes the regulations change because the data changed. Those can be frustrating events, but I have yet to year that the entire food science industry should be abolished because the results of one study were unsatisfactory.

Outside of the food industry, where science isn’t as respected or as appreciated, we’re seeing exactly those reactions. Here in Georgia, hospitals are at or near patient capacity, and schools all over the state are “going virtual” because of COVID-19 outbreaks. But if you asked the population what the real threats to Georgians are, a disturbingly high number would answer “vaccines” and “masks.” It’s not based on science at all, but rather conspiracy theories and self-proclaimed medical experts. My wife, who is a medical professional with multiple degrees, had someone of at least average intelligence tell her that the COVID vaccines alter your blood and make you easy to track with a black light. I have no idea where this person got that idea, but I’m reasonably sure a YouTube video was involved.

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about the FSIS mandate that any employee in a federally inspected facility needed to be masked when in the presence of an inspector. Yes, it could cause problems for an industry already impacted by a labor shortage. But in an industry where you need to wear gloves, boots, hair nets, beard nets, smocks, coats and other types of PPE to do your job, how much more inconvenient is a mask or face shield? Industry personnel should work to battle Coronavirus as much as they do Salmonella or E. coli.

Between that last editorial and today, I had to put together an obituary for an industry leader – younger than I am. I had interviewed him over the phone and had looked forward to meeting him or even visiting his facility. His loss was a blow to the small meat processing industry. Add that to the heroes that I’ve lost, the stories of friends who have lost spouses or parents, and the prayers I’ve sent every time I heard about a relative who had caught COVID, I’m pretty well exhausted. I want life to get back to normal, but that can’t happen as long as people continue to spout misinformation. A PPE-wearing industry should set an example for the rest of the population. Wear the mask when necessary, get the shots when they’re available, and help to get the world back to normal.

Sam Gazdziak