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Senate committee has yet to schedule hearing for Brashears

In the two weeks since President Trump nominated Mindy Brashears as USDA’s next Under Secretary for Food Safety, not much has happened.

The Senate has assigned management of her confirmation to the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry. But the committee has not announced a hearing schedule.

Brashears is a Texas Tech University food safety professor with an international reputation as a beef expert. Her interventions to prevent bacteria in beef and pork are in patents that she’ll likely have to turn into trusts while serving in government.

Brashears brings a bit of star power to the nomination process. She was a prominent expert witness in last year’s BPI v ABC News trial in South Dakota over a $1.9 billion defamation lawsuit. Her testimony for BPI, or Beef Products Inc., helped the South Dakota company win millions from the Disney-owned ABC.

While it drew little national attention, experts in Disney finances said the giant media and entertainment company paid out an astounding $177 million to settle the dispute involving a series of ABC News reports in 2012 that repeatedly referred to a BPI product as “pink slime.” Brashears testified that the widely used trimmings were beef, not slime.

“Slime is not beef. It does not meet any of the definitions of beef,” she told the South Dakota jury that seemed to hang on her every word. “It is false to call LFTB (lean finely textured beef) ‘pink slime.’ It is not pink slime.”

Dr. Elizabeth Hagen, USDA’s previous Under Secretary for Food Safety, said in 2012 that BPI’s lean finely textured beef was safe to consume.

While Senate confirmations of Trump nominations are among the slowest on record,  raising transition of government issues, the USDA’s food safety job might benefit from a special boost. Ten Democrats who are members of the Congressional Food Safety Caucus are on record about the urgency to get someone named as USDA’s Under Secretary for Food Safety.

USDA has not had an Under Secretary for Food Safety for 1,616 days or 4 years, 5 months, 5 days. President Obama opted not to replace Hagen when she left the post in 2013. It took President Trump 470 days to name Brashears.

Signing the March 8 letter to Trump and Perdue in favor of quick action were Rep. Nita M. Lowey, D-NY; Rep. Betty McCollum, D-MN; Rep. Brad Sherman, D-CA; Rep. Marcy Kaptur, D-OH; Rep. Diana DeGette, D-CO; Rep. Tim Ryan, D-OH; Rep. Barbara Lee, D-CA; Rep. Louise M. Slaughter, D-NY; Rep. Jan. Schakowsky, D-IL; and Rep. Sanford D. Bishop Jr., D-GA.

“Food safety policies impact the lives of every American, and thus it is vitally important that the leadership void created by this vacancy be filled immediately,” wrote the representatives.

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