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If the folks who run the Utah Department of Agriculture and Food think they have been doing anyone any favors by hiring bureaucratic cronies for jobs that properly belong to animal experts, all they have to do is wait.

Wait until one of the beef, pork or poultry facilities under the state's inspection gets tied to a deadly E. coli or salmonella outbreak. In addition to the horrific illnesses that will result, the affected packing plant will be looking at an expensive recall at best, or penalties and bad publicity that will result in a closed factory, lost jobs and a stain on the reputation on the whole of Utah's meat-processing industry.

The feds have already kicked UDAF inspectors out of the Dale T. Smith & Sons Meat Packing Facility in Draper and taken over the job themselves, having determined that the state was insufficiently watchful of the process. More such intervention can be expected, and desired, if the state department is half as much of a mess as its most recent acting state veterinarian says it is.

Warren Hess was the acting state vet who quit the UDAF last month, after 11 years at the department, and is now spreading the alarm as to why he thinks the place is dysfunctional. Prime among them, says Hess, is the fact that key jobs state law says must be held by people with veterinary science degrees have instead gone to people — managers and friends of managers — who don't meet that qualification.

Add this concern to what's been happening at the Utah Division of Arts and Museums, and it becomes reasonable to ask if the administration of Gov. Gary Herbert is more interested in giving jobs to political pals than in hiring people who actually know what they are doing.

The Legislature should take note of Hess' complaints. If the requirement that a veterinarian be in charge of inspection programs is valid, and it seems that it is, it should be enforced. If not, it should be repealed.

UDAF Director LuAnn Adams wants us to dismiss Hess as the proverbial disgruntled ex-employee. And it isn't impossible to see how all of this might be turf warfare between a member of a profession who doesn't want to lose a special status and public servants who want to improve management and save money. The last state vet retired after state auditors called him on the questionable practice of accepting outside income, and it has been Adams' job to improve the management culture at the agency.

But bureaucratic niceties must not trump a crucial job that requires, both legally and logically, a special expertise that they don't teach in political science classes.

Keeping the meat-processing industry in Utah credibly inspected, by trained veterinarians, is not only in the best interest of the consumer. It is in the vital interest of the industry that the people trust the process. And the product.