After a Year of Waiting, a Plausible Nominee for Undersecretary for Food Safety | Civil Eats

After a Year of Waiting, a Plausible Nominee for Undersecretary for Food Safety

Dr. Elisabeth Hagen has been nominated to take the helm of the Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) at the USDA, which oversees the safety of all meat, poultry and eggs, and where there has been a gaping hole waiting to be filled by a warm (and hopefully reform-minded, considering the past year’s track record on recalls) body since October 2008. Dr. Hagan is not new around the USDA, she is currently FSIS Chief Medical Officer, and served during the Bush Administration as a FSIS senior executive. If nominated, food borne illness litigator Bill Marler already has a list of needed reforms for Dr. Hagan and her team.

Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack praised the choice in a statement on Monday, “There is no more fundamental function of government than protecting consumers from harm, which is why food safety is one of USDA’s top priorities,” he said. “We can and must do a better job of ensuring the safety of meat and poultry products regulated by USDA, and Dr. Hagen brings the background, skills, and vision to lead USDA’s efforts to make sure that Americans have access to a safe and healthy food supply.”

Food safety advocates seem optimistic, too (from USA Today):

Carol Tucker-Foreman, a food safety advocate with the Consumer Federation of America, says Hagen “brings impressive education credentials to the position of under secretary for food safety.”

…While she has limited direct experience with Hagen, Tucker-Foreman says she’s been told the new undersecretary “has been a strong advocate for improved food safety policies and has urged the agency to be more aggressive in asking companies to initiate recalls.”

Initiating recalls would be a good start, so at least Mr. Marler doesn’t have to beat the USDA to the punch.

In addition to food safety advocates, Feedstuffs, and industry rag, is also optimistic about the Hagan nomination. It seems like the agreement between industry and advocates stems from the lack of real knowledge about who Dr. Hagan is, and what she is out to accomplish. From Food Safety News this morning:

Tony Corbo, senior lobbyist for the food campaign at Food & Water Watch, was also pleased a nominee had been named, though he admitted he didn’t know much about Dr. Hagen’s political savvy.

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“We like her public health credentials,” said Corbo. “The fact that she has already worked at the Food Safety Inspection Service may be a plus since she should know where the deficiencies are within the agency and she will not need a tutorial in meat, poultry and egg products inspection.”

“I don’t know what kind of political experience she has in dealing with the White House — in particular the Office of Management and Budget — and with Congress. This job requires that the incumbent deals with the politics of food safety as well as the science.”

Food Safety News also quoted Dave Murphy, from the grassroots advocacy group Food Democracy Now! who was lukewarm about the nomination:

“While Dr. Hagen has a few years experience at the USDA, the current food safety crisis in America demands a real reformer,” said Murphy. “Someone who has a history of taking tough stands for the American consumer. Hagen’s selection for FSIS head is yet another sign that the Obama Administration can talk about reform, but leaves serious doubts about its ability to enact it.”

With little resistance, though, it seems like Dr. Hagan will be quickly confirmed in the Senate.

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Paula Crossfield is a founder and the Editor-at-large of Civil Eats. She is also a co-founder of the Food & Environment Reporting Network. Her reporting has been featured in The Nation, Gastronomica, Index Magazine, The New York Times and more, and she has been a contributing producer at The Leonard Lopate Show on New York Public Radio. An avid cook and gardener, she currently lives in Oakland. Read more >

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