We all know what can spoil a great piece of meat. If you leave that piece of meat in the refrigerator for too long, it simply degrades and loses all its appeal. It is no coincidence, then, that the protein industry would be one of the loudest champions for change on a topic that has been neglected and ignored for far too long: immigration reform.

Certainly, the government has been pretty heavily occupied with the economy, the Gulf of Mexico oil spill and other bits and pieces of legislation. Yet it continued to ignore or push the problem of illegal immigration to the back of the shelf, without thinking about the long-term consequences.

Now, immigration reform has, in effect, spoiled, and it appears to scare the wits out of our elected officials — particularly with elections coming up. Immigration reform, for many politicians, has become the moldy, smelly, unrecognizable leftovers buried behind the delicious-looking cake in the refrigerator. Everyone knows it’s there, but no one wants to touch it or deal with creating a solution. It often takes one radical thinker to step up and force a change. In the case of immigration reform, the states — following the high-profile lead of Arizona — are taking the lead.

Tired of the government’s continued avoidance of the topic, Arizona offered the first high-profile step toward resolution — featuring both common sense and controversy, of course. For the purpose of this column, it matters little the details of the law, particularly since, at presstime, many of the controversial portions had been blocked by an injunction (which also had been appealed). What matters is that the states are forcing the government, hopefully once and for all, to take a stand.

Indeed, no matter where one stands on immigration, the entire idea of reforming the system is complicated. Even at the controversial extremes of the spectrum (kick them all out or grant them all citizenship), the complexities of accomplishing those tasks are tremendous. Immigration reform is not an overnight, flip-the-switch kind of change.

But the protein industry knows all about spoilage. And given the amount of time immigration reform has been neglected, ignored or forgotten, this is going to be an uncomfortable, often “smelly” process. The protein industry should applaud the states for taking the first realistic step toward a solution, and the industry also should throw its full support behind the states in their efforts.

With the right kind of push, the federal government might just move with as much purpose toward a real, national solution that works in the best interests of all legal Americans and the businesses they own and operate.