In his “Fight for Food Safety” column this month (page 12), Shawn Stevens talks about the need for education of the consumer in terms of safe food-handling practices, a strategy with which I agree.

Building upon that, I would take education several steps further — this industry needs sweeping education efforts aimed at bringing Jane and John Q. Public more in lockstep with what it does on a daily basis, how it works to keep animals and people safe, and how it does not do many of the things that Mr. & Mrs. Public assume or “hear” it does through filtered media and activist outlets.

Stevens’ column hits upon a key step in that measure. Let’s teach the consumers how they can be proactive in keeping food safety and keeping their own families and friends healthy. Let’s help them understand the logistical and financial issues that processors face in the name of keeping food safe and secure. Let’s put it in terms to which they can relate.

Another step? Let’s educate the public about the producers — many companies already do. But as I visited a lamb ranch in Idaho several weeks ago for an upcoming cover story, I came to the realization that many of my “city slicker” family and friends would not have any clue that lamb, beef and other species were being raised on the open range even today in some places. Furthermore, they might not be aware of how beautiful the land remained, despite the claims of some environmentalists who think grazing destroys the land or strips it bare. During my trip this mountain ranch, the only plant-free patches of land I saw were the road on which we were driving and the beautiful creeks. It doesn’t make any sense for ranchers to destroy the land, because they need that same land every year to raise their animals and produce excellent product.

Finally? While I don’t necessarily agree with the decision of a writer from the Chicago Tribune, who months ago wrote about taking her young children to an area farm to watch an animal slaughtered for food, I do believe the public needs to reconnect with the concept of where its meat originates. The industry needs to find a way to make animal handling, transport, slaughter and fabrication more transparent without grossing out hundreds of thousands of people or adding to the arsenal of animal activists.

This may be the trickiest of all, but it’s not impossible — animal activists prey on the fact that much of the process is unseen and unknown. They can make wild statements and influence the populace because the public has no counter-

information to punch holes in their claims. I suspect that, after an initial, cynical, adverse reaction to some portions of the process, many people would come to understand what protein processing is really all about, why things need to happen the way they do, and how those things happen.

A century ago, it was nothing to slaughter animals for food, ranchers were respected and understood as caretakers of the land rather than abusers of it, and food safety was a team effort from farm to stomach.

Somewhere along the road, we lost our way. It’s time to get back to basics.