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Consumer, Industry Groups OK FSIS Pick

Consumer advocates and meat industry representatives responded to the Obama Administration’s announcement Tuesday, naming Dr. Elisabeth Hagen to be Under Secretary of Food Safety at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), with a tepid seal of approval.

After months of rumors about who would be chosen for the post, which had remained vacant for over a year, most in the meat safety world were pleased to finally have a nominee to lead USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS).

As Food Safety News reported yesterday, Congresswoman Rosa

DeLauro (D-CT), a food safety champion in the House, said, “This announcement has been long-awaited by myself and

others concerned with food safety issues.”

“There is a

lot to be done, and a long way to go in making our food safety system

the best that it can possibly be, and I look forward to working with

Dr. Hagen to accomplish critical food safety goals,” added DeLauro.

Though Dr. Hagen received across the board approval from the top consumer and meat industry groups, some expressed unfamiliarity with her leadership style and political experience.

Jeremy Russel, director of communications and government relations for the National Meat Association (NMA), told Food Safety News, “NMA is pleased that the Administration is moving to fill this important Under Secretary position. We expect to get to know Dr. Hagen better soon and look forward to working with her in the future.”

“Consumer advocates who work closely with the FSIS on policy issues

have had limited direct experience with Dr Hagen,” said Carol Tucker-Foreman, distinguished fellow at Consumer Federation of America’s Food Policy Institute, in a statement. “We have been told,

however, that she 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.”

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.

“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.”

“It will be interesting to

see how she copes in that environment,” added Corbo.

American Meat Institute (AMI) president J. Patrick Boyle stressed the importance of the food safety post and said the organization was “gratified that a person with Dr. Hagen’s scientific and medical training will lead the agency’s food safety efforts.”

“We look forward to working with Dr. Hagen and her team so that we may achieve our mutual goal: ensuring the safest meat and poultry supply possible,” added Boyle.

Dave Murphy, founder of Food Democracy Now!, a grassroots sustainable agriculture advocacy group, which had campaigned to appoint lawyer and food safety expert Bill Marler to the post, was less than enthusiastic about the pick.

“Not really a stunning announcement for reform, but at least they have a warm body in the spot now,” said Murphy.

“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.”

© Food Safety News