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Codex transfer was not held up for lack of talk about it

In most months, industry and consumer representatives, each get one meeting with USDA’s top brass at the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS).

But in September, acting FSIS Administrator Paul Kiecker and temporary Deputy Under Secretary for Food Safety Carmen Rottenberg met twice with each group, once on Sept. 7 and again on Sept. 21.

The first meetings were entirely about USDA’s proposal to transfer the U.S. Codex program to trade from food safety. Planned as part of the reorganization of USDA by Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue, the Codex move is currently in a holding pattern.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which contributes expertise to the FSIS-led program, is on record with concerns about the credibility of its scientists if Codex were to be moved to USDA’s trade unit.

Industry and consumer groups are split on the idea. Most mainline food and agriculture organizations endorse the move, while consumer groups have expressed concerns about food safety taking a backseat to foreign market strategies.

Regular “stakeholder” issues were the subjects of the second set of consumer and industry meetings hosted by Kiecker and Rottenberg later in September.

Catfish was the subject of two meetings with top FSIS officials during September. Kiecker and assistant FSIS Administrator Roberta Wagner met Sept. 5 with Sara Brenholt of Miami-based Henderson Strategies, a federal government lobbying firm.

Brenholt was representing the Wild American Catfish Coalition.

Kiecker, Carmen and two other FSIS officials discussed catfish inspection with Mykel Wedig, agricultural assistant to Sen. Richard Burr, R-NC. Catfish inspection became a permanent part of FSIS duties after an 18-month transition period that ended in September.

On Sept. 15, Rottenberg discussed beef traceability and food safety with a large delegation from the China Meat Association, including Shandong Agriculture University, and the Chongqing Heyi Import and Export Trade Co. Companies represented included Jarvis China, Ningxia Xiahua Meat Product Co., and Balikun. Others present were from East-Terra Plastics and the North American Meat Institute. The North American Meat Institute (NAMI) provided a staff interpreter for the meeting.

On Sept. 21, Rottenberg and Kiecker held separate “Meet and Greet” events with representatives of Cargill and Hormel.

On the same day, Kiecker and two other FSIS officials hosted the National Bison Association’s Washington Roundup delegation to discuss the “cost of federal inspection, particularly in small and very small processing facilities,” along with “interpretation of regulations of federal inspection of bison processing.” Also discussed was labeling — bison versus buffalo — and cooperative interstate shipment programs regulations “as they pertain to bison.”

Kiecker heard an update on food safety from representatives of Pilgrim’s Pride on Sept. 27, and he and Rottenberg met with representatives of Tysons Fresh Meats about “collaboration and partnership and FSIS modernization.”

On Sept. 28, they discussed “opportunities for partnership and collaboration” with the Partnership for Food Safety and the Food Marketing Insitute.

On the same day, Rottenberg and Kiecker talked about USDA “equivalency process” for imported meat and poultry products with a delegation from the government of Honduras.

The NAMI Board of Directors and the Canadian Meat Council were also provided with a regulatory update on Sept. 28. Then Rottenberg and Kiecker finished out the month by meeting with counterparts from the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.

USDA reports monthly on meetings with persons outside the federal government by the Under Secretary and Deputy Under Secretary for Food Safety and the Administrator and Deputy Administrator for FSIS.

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