FSIS-Logo_406x250When his  appointment as Deputy Under Secretary for Food Safety comes to an end on Jan. 20, 2017, Al Almanza, who never gave up his  career employee status, will just switch back to being Administrator of USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS). Since Almanza  was named Deputy Under Secretary, he’s been the acting FSIS administrator

Either way, he’s been leading USDA’s food safety program along with its 10,000 employees for nearly a decade and he’ll be there to greet the new political appointees President-elect Donald Trump names to run USDA.

Almanza’s final weeks as a Deputy Under Secretary have been busy ones. He’s met with parties outside the agency on a wide variety of topics including the Public Health Information System (PHIS) and Export Module; China-U.S. regulatory issues; animal production; bio-security; catfish; JBS food safety issues; buffered peptone water; labeling issues and PHIS; GMO labeling issues; Sanderson Farm test data; inspection modernization and FSIS Inspectors Eligibility Export Certificates.

From September through November, Almanza’s calendar of meetings with people outside the agency also show he’d made time for a number of “meet and greet” sessions without a specific agenda.

On Sept. 8 Almanza hosted meeting with Dr. Enrique Sanchez Cruz, Ulises Bolanos, Carlos Vazquez and Jorge Leyva, all from Mexico’s National Service of Health, Safety and Agro-Food Quality (SENASICA). Among other things, SENASICA regulates animals, plants, products or by-products exported from Mexico and overseas the quality and safety of the nation’s products in agriculture, aquaculture and fisheries.

Al Almanza explains how funding whole genome sequencing of foodborne pathogens is a question of public health.
Al Almanza at the August 2016 conference of the International Association for Food Protection in St Louis. Photo by Coral Beach

Another “meet and greet,” on Sept. 20, had Almanza face to face with a delegation from China’s Food and Drug Administration, which included Director General Xu Jinghe.

Another meeting with only “meet and greet” listed as its purpose came on Nov. 16 when Almanza met with Jim Prince, associate head for Research, and Justin Wellner of the College of Agriculture, Food and Environmental Sciences, at California Polytechnic University.

Most Almanza meetings did include agendas.

On Sept. 1, the FSIS boss met twice with a delegation from China’s Food Safety Bureau, which was headed by Wang Hongbing, the deputy director. The first meeting was on the Export Module of the Public Health Information System (PHIS) and the second was a discussion of regulatory issues between the U.S. and China.

Almanza next met with Scott Goltry, vice president of regulatory affairs for the North American Meat Institute (NAMI), about bio-security in animal production.

On Sept. 15, Almanza did a meeting on meat exports to Canada with staff from the U.S. House of Representatives including Caleb Crosswhite, committee counsel; Mykel Wedig, staff director for livestock; Darryl Blakey, legislative assistant; and others.

Almanza was in two meetings in September on catfish, one on Sept. 19 with Fitz Elder, from the Russell Group, and another on Sept. 20 with H.E. VuVan Tham, Vietnam’s deputy minister of agriculture and rural development. FSIS took over catfish inspection March 1 under an agreement with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration that followed years of congressional debate. The Senate has voted to return catfish to FDA, but the House has yet to go along.

Almanza did an interview with Bernie Shire for Meat+Poultry Magazine for a profile that was published in November. And, Almanza held regular month meetings with consumer groups and industry representatives, both on Sept. 20.

Buffered peptone water was the topic of an Oct. 13 meeting with Almanza and his assistant administrators, David Goldman and Daniel Engeljohn. They met with Ashley Peterson, senior vice president of the National Chicken Council and Lampkin Butts from Sanderson Farms.

On Oct. 18, labeling issues and PHIS was discussed by FSIS personnel including Almanza and a large delegation from the Southwest Meat Association.

Two trade officials from the New Zealand Embassy stopped by on Oct. 25 to discuss GMO labeling issues with Almanza.

And Almanza also met in October with consumer and industry representatives in separate meetings, both on Oct. 27. The other Deputy Under Secretary for Food Safety, Brian Ronholm, also attended those meetings both in September and October.

The Sanderson Farm test data was the topic for a Nov. 8 meeting involving Almanza and visitors headed by veteran Hogan Lovels attorney Gary Kushner. On Nov. 17, Almanza discussed inspection modernization with Ken Petersen, whose affiliation was not listed.

Finally, NAMI’s Barry Carpenter and Smithfield Foods’ Mike Skahill met with Almanza on Nov. 29 about FSIS Inspectors Eligibility Export Certificates.

No consumer or industry meetings were held during November.