Food (Safety) Fight
By: Richard Raymond

Where’s the new food safety czar?

Source of Article:

(The views and opinions expressed in this blog are strictly those of the author.)

Sometimes, lately, I find myself wondering why I got up so early every day to beat the traffic into DC to get to the Whitten Building to sit in the chair provided for the USDA's Undersecretary for Food Safety.


And then I wonder why we had all those sometimes contentious meetings with consumer advocates, industry, food scientists and our own employees to discuss possible improvements in food safety. And the reason I wonder is not because I ever felt the job was not worth putting my best efforts into it, but because it appears this administration does not look at the position as being as important and vital as I thought it was at the time I was there.


It is now over five months into this administration, the President has declared our food safety system to be a disaster, and the top food safety official in the United States is still not even nominated. Media reports, including MeatingPlace and Agweek, reported that Secretary Vilsack, on June 4, said the administration has had a hard time finding a candidate who has not engaged in lobbying. I look back at the recent undersecretaries, both Senate-confirmed and acting/interim, and I don't recall any of them having been lobbyists.

So what really is the problem? Congress is considering food safety reform and modernization, including the creation of a single food safety agency, but USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service does not have an undersecretary in place to engage in that debate. And even after a candidate is named, the vetting process and Senate hearing schedules can take months to complete.


Maybe reform is easier with fewer players and opinions?


The Codex Alimentarius Commission is at its annual meeting this week to debate food safety and fair trade practices, but the Chair of the Codex Alimentarius Policy Committee, a policy setting committee made up of State, USTR, EPA, Commerce, FFAS, MRP, FSIS, FDA and others, is without an occupant as long as the Undersecretary for Food Safety remains unnamed.

The interim filling the position, Ron Hicks, is a great guy and, I hope, after he reads this article, still a good friend with years of FSIS experience. But this political position needs to be filled by a President-appointed, Senate-confirmed Undersecretary before the summer grilling season produces another large recall because of E coli 0157:H7. If another large recall of beef should happen, and no one is in that chair on that day to answer questions, there will be a lot of red faces in DC.


Anyone have any good gossip to spread about who will be sitting in that chair next? 

6/30/2009 11:16 AM 


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