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Food safety expertise could trump ho-hum ag appointment

One of the nation’s past top food safety officials might be named Secretary of Agriculture by President-elect Donald J. Trump.

Murano_406x250Cuban-born Texan Professor Elsa Murano, who served as U.S. Under Secretary of Agriculture for Food Safety in the administration of President George W. Bush from 2001 to 2004, is a late edition to a list of Secretary of Agriculture candidates being considered for appointment by the soon-to-be 45th President of the United States.

Murano reportedly will meet with the President-elect later this week at Trump Tower.

After leaving the government in 2004, returned to Texas A&M where did stints as Vice Chancellor of Agriculture and Life Sciences and then Dean of Agriculture and Life Sciences before becoming the 23rd president of Texas A&M on Jan. 3, 2008.

Her presidency, however, was stormy and short as she clashed with A&M System Chancellor Mike McKinney, Gov. Rick Perry’s former chief of staff. She resigned about 18 months later, getting a year off at her presidential pay and reinstatement as full professor at A&M’s Center for Food Safety.

Were Trump to elevate a past Under Secretary for Food Safety as the next Secretary of Agriculture, it would be a contrasting action as President Obama has left the government’s highest food safety job vacant for the past three years.

Since the top food safety job was created in the 1993 USDA Reorganization Act, there have only been three others appointed by a president who have been confirmed by the U.S. Senate.

Those three are Catherine Woteki, who holds a Ph. D in nutrition, 1997-2001; Dr. Richard Raymond, 2005-2009; and Dr. Elisabeth Hagen, 2010-2013. Mike Taylor, who was Food Safety and Inspection Service Administrator, was first to serve as Under Secretary for Food Safety when the office was created, but he served only on an acting basis.

The outgoing president has not commented on why he has let the high ranking food safety office remain vacant.

Woteki is currently Under Secretary for USDA’s Research, Education and Economics unit. Raymond and Hagen are both involved in food safety consulting and issues around the world.

Naming Murano as Secretary of Agriculture would stand out from other choices Trump is said to be considering, as almost all follow the standard profile for the top ag job, meaning they have either been governor of an agricultural state or have served on a congressional committee with “Farm Bill” experience.

Obama went with that model when he named former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack to the job eight years ago.

Examples of possible appointees by Trump include Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-ND, and Gov. Butch Otter, D-ID. Naming the Democratic senator from North Dakota would likely end up with a Republican being named to that Senate seat.

Gov. Otter is a long-time elected official in Idaho who was amicably divorced after 28 years from the daughter of the late potato billionaire J.S. Simplot.

Since Trump has already named former Texas Gov. Perry as Secretary of Energy, his naming Murano to run USDA might make for some interesting cabinet meetings, considering the A&M disputes. Perry’s man, McKinney, did a scathing performance review on Murano and then made it public. She responded in kind.

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