President Obama announced yesterday his intent to circumvent the Senate and recess appoint Dr. Elisabeth Hagen to be Under Secretary for Food Safety at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, a post charged with overseeing the safety of approximately 20 percent of the food supply.

To the dismay of food safety advocates, the top food safety post, which regulates meat, poultry, and processed egg products, has remained without a confirmed leader since December 2008.

Many in the food policy community have openly suggested the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service  lacks leadership and direction at a time when the Obama administration is stressing food safety system reform.

Announced as the administration’s pick in January, Hagen, currently the agency’s Chief Medical Officer, appeared before the Senate Agriculture Committee in May, and cleared the Committee in July.
“At a time when our nation faces so many pressing challenges, I urge members of the Senate to stop playing politics with our highly qualified nominees, and fulfill their responsibilities of advice and consent,” President Obama said in a statement as he announced four recess appointments. “Until they do, I reserve the right to act within my authority to do what is best for the American people.”
Consumer and industry groups praised the move.

“The President has served the country well by making a recess appointment of Elisabeth Hagen, M.D. to be Under Secretary of Agriculture for Food Safety.  The post has been vacant for two years.  While career staff have continued day-to-day operations of this important public health program, efforts to modernize the program have stalled,” said the Consumer Federation of America.
“[Hagen] brings to the position excellent medical training and substantial knowledge of the USDA’s food safety programs. No member of the Senate questioned her qualifications,” added CFA.  “There is every reason for the Senate to confirm her nomination as soon as they return from the August recess. “

In response to the announcement, American Meat Institute President J. Patrick Boyle said, “We look forward to working closely with Dr. Hagen and feel confident that her scientific and medical training will help achieve the safest meat and poultry supply possible.”