The U.S. Codex Office is moving from USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) to USDA’s Trade and Foreign Affairs Office and that may not be such a good thing.
The Codex Alimentarius, aka the “Food Code”, is a set of standards, guidelines and codes designed to protect food quality and safety. One example is the safe level of veterinary drug residues in meat and poultry.
The Codex Alimentarius Commission (CAC) consists of 180+ countries, each with one vote, that make the decisions and set the standards that comprise the Codex Alimentarius.
The CAC is co-sponsored by the United Nation’s World Health Organization located in Geneva, and the Food and Agriculture Organization located in Rome. The annual gathering in early July is alternated between the two headquarter cities, but dozens of other sub-committee meetings are held around the world.
It’s a pretty big deal
It is about food safety for all nations, and it is about fair trade. But mostly, it is about public health, and that is not what the Trade and Foreign Affairs Office is going to have front and center on its plate.
I know the nominee to head up this newly created office, Ted McKinney, and he is a good man. But he is not all about public health; he is about marketing agricultural products.
Public health at the USDA is centered in FSIS, and that is where the handful of individuals who work full time on Codex issues are currently located.
The Undersecretary for Food Safety at the USDA chairs the U.S. Codex Policy Committee, a group of high ranking individuals from the EPA, U.S. Trade Office, FDA, Commerce, State and others, making that person the highest ranking food safety official in the U.S. government.
An FSIS employee, Karen Hulebak, was even elected as the chair of the CAC while I was in D.C., a real feather in the USDA’s Codex Office’s cap and an example of how much respect was given to the United States and FSIS, on an international food safety and public health level.
It is a long-standing belief that FSIS is strongly influenced by industry, and puts public health on the back burner. Having been there, I can try to reassure folks that is not the case; but talk only goes so far.
Now that the Secretary of Agriculture and his boss have said they are moving the Codex Office, which is a recognized force worldwide for food safety and protecting public health, over to the Trade Office, that belief will be further enhanced and U.S. leadership on controversial issues reduced.
Are we emphasizing trade goals over food safety? Was the new USDA undersecretary for trade and foreign agriculture affairs the first announced USDA nominee after Secretary Perdue?
The answer to both questions is yes, and is confirmed by the lack of an Undersecretary for food safety who might have advised against this move, and even campaigned in the halls of Congress to maintain the status quo, a status that had very high international respect.