Even though President Donald Trump did not mention food safety in his first speech before a joint session of Congress on Tuesday night, one observer with a finely tuned food safety focus says the new commander-in-chief might be heading in a good direction.

Ray Starling
Ray Starling

With the announcement Monday that Ray Starling will be part of the National Economic Council, the president gave Jim Gorny reason to hope that the new administration is trying to become better informed on key issues. Starling, an attorney by training and recently chief of staff for Sen. Thom Tillis, R-NC, is one of more than a dozen people named to the National Economic Council.

“It sounds like President Trump is using Ronald Regan’s model of using councils of informed people as advisers,” said Gorny, vice president for food safety and technology for the Produce Marketing Association (PMA) and former senior advisor for produce safety at the FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition.

Gorny said Starling has all the bases covered in terms of advising the White House on food safety. Starling grew up on a North Carolina farm so he knows agriculture from the inside and understands food safety and agriculture involve more than beef and wheat.

“North Carolina is a diverse agriculture state,” Gorny said, “so Ray knows about a variety of kinds of operations. He served on the state’s food safety task force to address changes because of the Food Safety Modernization Act, so he knows about what it means.”

Starling’s education as an attorney and knowledge of Capitol Hill gained while working for the senator give him a frame of reference that should allow him to advise the administration from a practical, workable point of view, Gorny said.

As for how the president will approach food safety remains to be seen. In 2016, during the campaign for the White House, then-candidate Trump posted comments indicating he had less than a favorable opinion of the FDA’s role and staff, which he referred to as food police. The information was quickly removed from the Internet.

During his speech Tuesday night, the president did reference the FDA, but only in the context of his desire to streamline and speed up the government’s processes for approving medical treatments.

According to the White House announcement Monday, Starling will serve as special assistant to the President for agriculture, trade and food assistance. In addition to his most recent post as chief of staff for Tillis, Starling was previously Tillis’ chief counsel and then-Speaker Tillis’ General Counsel and Senior Agriculture Advisor in the N.C. General Assembly.

Starling also has served as general counsel for the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. He has private practice experience from several years at Hunton & Williams and has taught numerous agricultural and food law courses. He earned a bachelor’s degree in Agricultural Education from NC State University and his law degree from UNC-Chapel Hill.

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