Well, 2020 has come to an end. The year of COVID-19 is kaput! However, COVID has not gone away, and will remain with us for many months. People will still get the virus, and there will, unfortunately, be more deaths, and probably more lockdowns and mandates to wear masks and social distance. But, we now have several vaccines—an amazing accomplishment when one considers the speed with which these were developed, evaluated, and approved. The means by which these were developed have the potential to benefit other programs such as acceptance of science, vaccines, and even genetically modified foods. As I write, more than 74 million Americans have been vaccinated. In addition, there are millions who have contracted the virus and recovered and, therefore, have some degree of immunity.
So, where do we go from here? The most important thing is that the world learns a few things that will prevent or minimize the effects of such a situation in the future. Perhaps the most important lesson to be learned is that good communication is essential. Would things have been different if the world had been given better information on the situation in Wuhan and if the Chinese had been more open? We will never know.
We in the food industry have learned a few lessons: the importance of good hygiene and proper handwashing and the need to adopt masks or facial protection as standard equipment for food plant workers. But, the lessons go far beyond the production floor. Many processors have taken a long, hard look at their supplier programs and realized that they needed to diversify their sourcing. Remember the early days of the pandemic? There was a scramble for certain ingredients such as non-nutritive sweeteners because the primary source was a nation with a serious virus problem, and exports had been curtailed.
My greatest fear for 2021 is that it will be the year of blame. Rather than moving forward, learning from mistakes and the events of 2020, and celebrating the roll-out of the vaccines and the end of lockdowns, my fear is that we’ll see news media, politicians, and lawyers blame individuals, organizations, and companies for the events of 2020, including sickness, death, and other issues. And, with the blame will come the lawsuits.
I sincerely hope that 2021 will be the year of healing. Blame and finger pointing will do little when it comes to healing and repairing the ravages of 2020. Let’s be sure to learn from the past, and not try to profit from it.