Ten Democrats who are members of the Congressional Food Safety Caucus are asking President Donald J. Trump and Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue to get someone named as USDA’s Under Secretary for Food Safety.

In April 2017 Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, left, sat at the right hand of President Donald J. Trump when he signed an executive order forming a task force on rural prosperity. The pair’s focus has rarely been on food safety, with the vacant food safety post at USDA being only one example. President Obama left the position open from December 2013 through January 2017 when Trump was sworn in. Photo courtesy of USDA

“The position of Under Secretary for Food Safety has now entered its fifth year of vacancy, making it one of the longest standing vacancies in the Executive Branch,” wrote the 10 led by Rep. Rosa L. DeLauro, D-CT, who chairs the caucus.

Also signing the March 8 letter to Trump and Perdue were Rep. Nita M. Lowey, D-NY; Rep. Betty McCollum, D-MN; Rep. Brad Sherman, D-CA; Rep. Marcy Kaptur, D-OH; Rep. Diana DeGette, D-CO; Rep. Tim Ryan, D-OH; Rep. Barbara Lee, D-CA; Rep. Louise M. Slaughter, D-NY; Rep. Jan. Schakowsky, D-IL; and Rep. Sanford D. Bishop Jr., D-GA.

“Food safety policies impact the lives of every American, and thus it is vitally important that the leadership void created by this vacancy be filled immediately,” wrote the representatives.

“The (Government Accountability Office) found that the amount of multistate foodborne illness outbreaks reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has increased over time. Today, around 48 million Americans are affected by foodborne illnesses per year, which results in 128,000 hospitalizations and 3,000 deaths.”

The caucus members told the president and the agriculture secretary now is the time for the food safety post to be filled for a variety of reasons.

“With the Administration proposing large-scale changes in the area of food safety, this appointment could not come at a more welcomed or timely moment.

“These various changes – moving the U.S. Codex Office from the Food Safety and Inspection Service to the Trade and Foreign Affairs mission area, the proposed changes to the inspection of livestock slaughter, as well as the recent cooperative agreement between USDA and FDA on implementation of the Food Safety Modernization Act – could all gain from the expertise and input of a qualified expert on food safety,” the letter continued. “Without question, filling this vital leadership position will have a positive influence on the (Agriculture) Department, as well as the country.”

Former President Barack Obama did not name a new Under Secretary for Food Safety after the office became vacant in December 2013, leaving it open for the final 1,095 days of his term without anyone in Congress questioning the inaction.

President Trump has been in office for more than 400 days without naming a new Under Secretary for Food Safety, as well as at least three other top USDA jobs.

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