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Letter From The Editor: What is Sonny Perdue thinking?

Opinion

Sonny Perdue

In case you missed it, Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue took his finger off the pause button last week to implement his reorganization of USDA.

He’s removed the U.S. Codex Office from the Food Safety and Inspection Service to the Office of the Under Secretary for Trade and Agricultural Affairs. And he eliminated the Grain Inspection, Packers, and Stockyards Administration (GIPSA) as a standalone agency.

The Codex Alimentarius, or “Food Code” is a collection of standards, guidelines, and codes of practice adopted by the 188-member Codex Alimentarius Commission. Codex standards exist to ensure that food is safe so it may be traded in world commerce.

Dr. Richard Raymond, who was USDA’s Under Secretary for Food Safety under President George W. Bush, says while Codex involves both food safety and trade, it’s really about public health.

Public health and food safety are the losers in Perdue’s game of musical chairs, which he says is for “improving customer service and efficiency.” The Under Secretary for Food Safety is also a loser, but only in theory. That top USDA post remains vacant.

Those most familiar with the situation say the big winner is Ted McKinney, the new Under Secretary of Agriculture for Trade and Foreign Agricultural Affairs. He is a past director of global corporate affairs for Elanco, a subsidiary of Eli Lilly and Company. Then Gov. Mike Pence picked McKinney in 2014 as director of the Indiana State Department of Agriculture and President Trump named him to USDA’s trade job in 2017.

Trade is sexy for sure, especially in the Trump Administration. But trade is not where developed countries serious about food safety put their Codex duties. Oh, yes, Congo, Guinea, Lesotho, Madagascar, and Samoa do, but those are not the top-of-mind countries for food safety.

Now, the United States of America is on that list. I think I’ll take a knee on that one.

There is no logical reason why anyone in their right mind would do this unless it is to fulfill the demands of those Elanco-like multinational agricultural and pharmaceutical corporations impacted by Codex standards.

The North American Meat Institute, which is usually a serious organization, is trying to paint as much lipstick on this pig as possible. NAMI talks about how the technical and scientific experts at Codex will now have the great privilege to be “educators and consultants” to “those developing trade policy…”

There are reports that Perdue is going to let the USDA Under Secretary for Food Safety chair the U.S. Codex meetings. Other government agencies, especially FDA scientists, are heavily involved in those. It’s a meaningless pledge as long the office remains vacant.

As for Codex experts getting to talk to those cool trader guys, the Center for Science in the Public Interest’s Peter Lurie recently pointed out that “other key USDA offices are being populated by country club cabana attendants, pesticide lobbyists, and other unqualified political campaign operatives…”

Lurie said that makes the Codex move “more troubling still.”

True that.

Perdue’s other significant action ends GIPSA as it has existed since 1994. However, the former Packers and Stockyards Administration established in 1921, first implemented the Packers and Stockyards Act.

Under Perdue’s reorganization, the Agricultural Marketing Service’s (AMS) Fair Trade Practices program takes over for GIPSA.

In another part of the restructuring, the Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion is being eliminated as a standalone agency and folded into the Food and Nutrition Service (FNS).

And finally, in one I genuinely do not understand, USDA’s chief economist is now charged with coordinating federal insecticide, fungicide, and rodenticide policies.

Secretary Perdue, it is your move.

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