President Trump and Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue may be close to revealing who will be named, subject to U.S. Senate confirmation, the next USDA Under Secretary for Food Safety. And among those who hear such things, two women are being mentioned for the U.S. government’s highest food safety job. They are:
Professor Mindy M. Brashears, who is the Director of the International Center for Food Industry at Texas Tech University.
Her testimony as an expert witness for Beef Products Inc. last summer helped the Sioux City, IA, food company negotiate at least $177 million from Disney-owned ABC News in historic agriculture disparagement litigation.
Brashears told the jury that BPI’s lean finely textured beef (LFTB) is meat, is beef, is nutritious and is entirely safe to eat. Many media organizations referred to it as “pink slime,” but BPI’s owners sued ABC News.
Veterinarian Christina Hoang is Assistant Director of the Division of Animal and Public Health of the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA).
She earned her DVM and MPH through the University of Minnesota’s dual degree program She also holds certification in public health from the National Board of Public Health Examiners. Dr. Hoang is AVMA’s resident expert on antimicrobials and is a recipient of the Food Safety Veterinarian of the year award presented by the American Association of Food Safety Veterinarians.
Filling empty seats at USDA
In addition to the food safety post, the Trump administration also has yet to fill the position os USDA Under Secretary for Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services. But Brashears and Hoang are more likely being considered for food safety. The other job handles the food stamps (SNAP) and other nutrition programs.
The Trump Administration has not expressed any public interest in nominating an Under Secretary for Food Safety. The Obama Administration left the post vacant for its last three years. Instead, it named the Food Safety and Inspection Service’s longtime administrator, Al Almanza, to perform the job duties of the post while he continued to work as FSIS’s chief administrator.
Almanza retired from government in July. He now heads global food safety for JBS S.A., the world’s second-largest food company.
Since Congress created the position in 1994, the Office of the USDA Under Secretary for Food Safety has been vacant almost as much as it’s occupied. As a political appointee, the Under Secretary for Food Safety critical provides oversight to FSIS and is the hierarchy of career civil servants.
Two career civil servants have temporarily taken over Almanza’s jobs: Carmen Rottenberg is acting as the Deputy Under Secretary for Food Safety and Paul Kiecker is acting FSIS administrator. Rottenberg also took over from Brian Ronholm, the other Obama administration appointee, as Deputy Under Secretary.
The last Senate-confirmed Under Secretary for Food Safety at USDA was Dr. Elisabeth Hagen, who served from August 2010 to December 2013. Before that she was USDA’s chief medical officer, advising on a range of issues such as food safety, nutrition, and zoonotic diseases.
Dr. Richard Raymond, formerly Nebraska’s chief medical officer, was USDA’s Under Secretary for Food Safety during the last half of the George W. Bush Administration. Elsa Murano held down the job during the first half of W’s tenure and went on to be President of Texas A&M. Bill Clinton’s appointee, Cathy Wotecki, was confirmed as his Under Secretary for Food Safety and obtained another confirmation as Obama’s Undersecretary for Research, Economics, and Education.
Raymond predicts the next appointee will be a “newbie” like he and others were at the time of their appointments but is not he is not concerned that they might not “fit into any particular mold.” He says others willing to take the job are “not going to be named.”
“This is the nation’s top food safety official,” Raymond wrote recently in Meatingplace, an online news site. “This person can affect the health and safety of every American except those strict vegans who eat no meat or poultry products.”
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