You just might think Dr. Elisabeth Hagen, the under secretary for food safety at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, was on a debutante tour last fall and winter, when in reality she  likes to hole up in her office without meeting with anyone outside the federal government. 

After taking over USDA’s top food safety job, first with a recess appointment by President Obama and then through confirmation by the U.S. Senate, Hagen appeared to be embracing the role of meeting with the Food Safely and Inspection Service’s (FSIS’s) far-flung constituency. 

Hagen, who is a physician, clearly started out on an outreach offensive. In her first seven full months in office, she logged at least 87 meetings with groups and individuals from outside the often insular federal government. 

She met with consumer advocates and meat industry executives in groups and as individuals.  She also hit the road, traveling to the interior valley of California and to the Texas panhandle to tour some of the plants she is responsible for regulating.

During those first seven months, Hagen was also taking the monthly meeting FSIS has separately with industry and consumer groups. She was also working Congress and finding time to forge relationships with foreign food safety agencies and make some campus appearances. 

Her meetings, which were sometimes labeled as a “meet and greets” and at other times had more formal food safety agendas, were running the gamut of the many who want to build a connection with the agency. 

But now, if the FSIS public calendar is to be believed, Hagen did not have one outside meeting between April 1 and June 30. 

According to a July 15 update to public calendar on the FSIS website, only FSIS administrator Al Almanza met with industry and consumer representatives, foreign governments, and with some specific groups like the American Meat Institute during the second quarter. Missing are any meetings with anyone outside the federal government for either Hagen or Brian Ronholm, the deputy under secretary for food safety.

What does all this mean?

First, it is too early to order the milk cartons for Dr. Hagen. Food Safety News has learned the under secretary has actually continued her meetings with real people and that the FSIS public calendar will reflect that — eventually.

To understand all this, it may be important to understand where the public calendar came from to begin with. About 10 years ago, one of those pesky consumer groups got suspicious about who FSIS officials were meeting with outside government. 

Specifically, consumer advocates suspected then under-secretary Dr. Elsa Murano and administrator Dr. Garry McKee were too industry friendly and thought it would be wise to see their calendars to find out how many meetings they had with meat companies and why.

FSIS was hit with a Freedom of Information Act request for calendars, which the agency was successfully resisting when Dr. Richard Raymond came along as under secretary. 

When asked by consumer advocates how secret his schedule was going to be, Raymond had his administrative assistant copy all his calendars to date and hand them over, to the dismay of some at FSIS. 

Raymond, Nebraska’s former chief medical officer, said he did not want to defend “stupid prior decisions.”

For several years after that, public calendars published by FSIS were relatively specific.

Under Raymond’s tenure, the specific purpose of the meeting was usually labeled, such as “irradiation” or the “Hallmark recall,” and not just given the sweeping broad brush of ‘food safety.” 

For now, the official/unofficial word about the FSIS public calendar is that it currently is in a state of anomaly. Hard-working people at FSIS will soon get it up to date, and we will then know more about what Dr. Hagen has been doing since April 1.

Those who’ve been watching the public schedules at FSIS longer than Food Safety News say it’s great the new under secretary started out meeting with so many, and now she needs to be more specific about those meetings. Until that update occurs, here’s what we do know:

Under Secretary Hagen’s Appointments to Date:

September – December, 2010

Carol Foreman, Consumer Federation of America

Safe Food Coalition Meeting

Monthly Industry Meeting

Richard Raymond

Bill Marler

John Munsell

Nancy Donley

Pat Buck, Center for Foodborne Illness

Barbara Kowalcyk, Center for Foodborne Illness

Congressman Colin Peterson

Scott Gultry, American Meat Institute

Tracie Letterman, Humane  Society

Mimi Brody, Humane Society

Dr. Craig Reed, VA Tech Polytechnic Institute

Robin Schoen, VA Tech Polytechnic Institute

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand

Mike Robach, Cargill

Dennis Johnson

Frank Olsson

Terman Weeda

Matz Bode, PC

National Advisory Committee on Meat and Poultry Inspection

Senator Mike Enzi

Joey Lowery, Catfish Farmers of America

Ben Noble, Catfish Farmers of America

Hunter Moorhead, Catfish Farmers of America

Bo Reagan, National Cattlemen’s Beef Association

Barry Carpenter, National Meat Association.

J. Patrick Boyle, American Meat Institute

Jim Hodges, American Meat Institute

Michael Jacobson, Center for Science in the Public Interest

Julie Greenstein, Center for Science in the Public Interest

Bruce Silverglade, Center for Science in the public Interest

Tony Corbo, Food and Water Watch

Stephen Pretank, National Chicken Council

George Watts, National Chicken Council

Rick Ropp, National Chicken Council

Gary Kushner, National Chicken Council

Federation of Government Employees Meeting, Shreveport, LA

Sara Lilygren, Tyson Foods

Chuck Penry, Tyson Foods

University of Maryland Eastern Shore

Sandra Wind, Canada

Howard  Maguire, United Egg Association

Randy Green, United Egg Association

Enrique Sanchez Cruz, Mexico

Carlos Sanchez, Mexico

Monthly industry meeting

Dennis Johnson

Caroline Smith DeWaal, CSPI

Felicia Nestor, Food and Water Watch

Seaboard Farms, Guymon, OK (plant visit)

Swift Beef, Cactus, TX  (plant visit)

Cactus Feeders, Cactus, TX  (feedlot visit)

Tyson Fresh Meats, Amarillo, TX  (plant visit)

Caviness Beef Packers, Hereford, TX (plant visit)

Cargill Meat Solutions, Friona, TX & Plainview, TX (plant visits)

Scott Becker,Association of Public Health Laboratories

National Assiciation of County and City Health Officials

Alan Taylor, Association of Food and Drug Officials

Margot Bolon, Partnership for Food Safety Education.

David Tharp, International Association of Food Protection

Kimberly Reed, International Food Information Council

Pat McConnon, Council of State and Territorial Epidemiologists

Larry Marcum, National Environmental Health Association

George C. Benjamin, American Public Health Association.

USDA Stakeholders

Joe and Keri Harris, Southwest Meat Organization

Monthly industry meeting

Ann Hooper, VP Total Quality, Darden

Safe Food Coalition

National Pork Producers Council

Dr. Cathy Woteki, Institute of Medicine, Food and Nutrition

President Harvey Fineberg, Institute of Medicine, Food and Nutritiuon

Peggy Rochette, Grocery Manufacturers Association

Richard Carnevale, Animal Health Institute

Professor Marsha Echols, Howard University

David Lambert, Lambert Associates 

Lucyna Kurtyna, Monsanto Co.

Kyd Brenner, DTB Associates (corn refiners)

Elizabeth Parker, National Cattleman’s Beef Association

Clay Hough, International Dairy Foods Association

Randy Russell, Russell & Baron Inc.

Australian delegation

Dr. Hilary Thesmar & Joel Brandenberger, National Turkey Federation

David Schmidt, International Food Information Council Foundation

Kimberly Reed, International Food Information Council Foundation

January – March, 2011

National Cattlemen’s Beef Association

Monthly consumer meeting

Cargill Beef Packers (plant tour)

Harris Ranch (tour)

Foster Poultry Farmers, Modesto (tour)

Costco Wholesale, Modesto (tour)

Ann Wells, North American Meat Processors

Brian Covington, Keystone Foods

Dennis Hecker, Wendy’s

Shawn Althauser, Wendy’s

Bill Griffith, Wendy’s

Pfizer & Cargill (live animal vaccine)

Brian Covington, Keystone Foods

Rickette Collins, McDonald’s

Dr. Todd Bacon, McDonald’s

Nancy Donley, Safe Tables Our Priority

Deidre Schlunegger, Safe Tables Our Priority

Shelley Feist, Partnership for Food Safety Education

Will Fisher, Partnership for Food Safety Education

Dr. Bruce Stewart-Brown, Perdue Farms

Carol Tucker Foreman, Consumer Federation of America

Lo Fo Wong, World Health Organization

Industry monthly meeting

“This Week in Agriculture” (radio program)

Dr. Ron DeHaven, American Veterinary Medical Association.

Dr. John Clifford, APHIS chief veterinary officer

Laurie Hueneke, National Pork Producers

National Turkey Association

USDA Stakeholders

Randy Russell, Russell and Barron

Barry Carpenter, National Meat Association

Joe Swedberg, Hormel (on telephone)

Beef Industry Food Safety Council

Monthly consumer meeting

Scott Goltry, American Meat Institute

Laura Fenton, Advance Pierre Foods

Nick Meriggioli, Oscar Meyer

Abby Blunt Dr., Oscar Meyer

Modena Wilson, American Medical Association

Nancy Donley, STOP

Dierdre Schlunegger, STOP

Cathy Liss, Animal Welfare Institute

Marc Mortureux, Government of France 

Monthly consumer meeting

Audrey Adamson, National Pork Producers

Chelsie Redalen, National Pork Producers

Dr. Paul Sundberg, National Pork Producers

Dr. Steve Larsen, National Pork Producers

Monthly industry meeting

St. Joseph’s University facility and students

April – June, 2011

No meetings outside federal government reported