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.
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.
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.
reform is easier with fewer players and opinions?
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
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.
have any good gossip to spread about who will be sitting in that chair