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USDA’s temporary food safety administrators are in demand

If Carmen Rottenberg and Paul Kiecker are feeling just a bit like Lucy and Charlie Brown, it’s understandable.

During the first month of holding down USDA’s top two food safety jobs on an acting basis, Rottenberg and Kiecker have taken 19 meetings with people outside the federal government.

By taking on the jobs of USDA’s acting deputy undersecretary for food safety and administrator of Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), Rottenberg and Kiecker, respectively, attracted a line as long as Lucy had when she put our her shingle.

Rottenberg and Kiecker were both named to succeed longtime FSIS boss Al Almanza, who was acting deputy undersecretary for food safety and FSIS administrator. He retired on July 31 after three decades at FSIS to take over food safety at meat producer JBS USA.

Rottenberg, who took her first meeting as acting deputy undersecretary for food safety on Aug. 11, with Oscar Garrison, vice president for food safety and regulatory affairs, with United Egg Producers and the United Egg Association. Eggs in the Netherlands was the topic, which was likely about the recall over chemical use in Dutch henhouses.

Rottenberg and Kiecker joined forces for five meetings on Aug. 16 and 17. Their first was with Thomas Gremillion, director of food policy for the Consumer Federation of America. James Sumner, president of the USA Poultry & Egg Export Council was up next. The discussion involved scheduling “challenges” involving Iraq’s audit of the U.S.

The next two meetings, first with consumer group representatives and then with industry, continued Almanza’s tradition of conducting such meetings on a near monthly basis.

The busy two days ended with Rottenberg and Kiecker meeting with Lisa Wallenda Picard, vice president for science and regulatory affairs, and Victoria Ahlmeyer with the National Turkey Federation.

The pace continued during the following week, beginning with a session with a delegation from the Food Marketing Institute about retail food safety and the FSIS strategic plan.

Labeling for non-meat products and cultured meat were on the agenda for a meeting with a delegation from the American Meat Institute with Rottenberg and Kiecher on Aug. 22.

Ending the third week in the July, Rottenberg and Kiecker huddled with Chandler Keys of the Keys Group about “foreign materials.” Keys runs a communications and consulting shop.

The final week of August began with a visit from a delegation representing the Embassy of Canada and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA).

Rottenberg met alone on Aug. 29 with Ashley Peterson, vice president of the National Chicken Council, about poultry line speeds.

Kiecker and two other FSIS staffers did a follow-up meeting with Daniel Miller, CFIA’s executive director, on audit issues between the U.S. and Canada.

On Aug. 30, Rottenberg and Kiecker were together again for two meetings with some House and Senate committee staffers about the catfish inspection program. In between, they did a “meet and greet” with the Humane Society’s Tracie Letterman.

USDA’s new catfish inspection program was the subject of the last four meetings in the month, on Aug. 30 and 31. One was with staff from Florida’s Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) and another was with North Carolina Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler.

The other two were with a delegation headed by the McLean, VA-based Allen F. Johnson & Associates, a trade group, and another gathering of congressional staffers, mostly from agriculture and appropriations committees.

Siluriformes, including both domestic and imported catfish, became subject to inspection and full enforcement as of Sept. 1, 2017, by FSIS under the Federal Meat Inspection Act.

Rottenberg will likely remain in her job until President Trump nominates and the Senate confirms a new permanent undersecretary for food safety. A permanent FSIS administrator won’t likely be named until the Undersecretary is on board.

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