On his 470th day in the Oval Office, President Donald J. Trump Friday announced his intention to nominate Dr. Mindy Brashears as the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA’s) next Under Secretary for Food Safety. It will be many more days before the Texan food safety expert takes office.
Brashears, who was an expert witness in the BPI v. ABC trial last summer is a professor of food safety and public health who is also director of the International Center for Food Industry Excellence at Texas Tech University.
The department’s top job over food safety, which Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue says “is at the core of USDA’s mission” has been vacant for the past 1,604 days. And it will remain vacant until Dr. Brashears’ nomination is confirmed by the U.S. Senate.
USDA unconfirmed nominations ahead of hers include Stephen Alexander Vader as general counsel, Naomi C. Hart as assistant secretary for civil rights, and James E. Hubbard as Under Secretary for natural resources and environment.
Perdue Friday pressed the U.S. Senate to “take up all our nominations as quickly as possible.”
Government-wide, the Trump Administration is currently waiting for Senate confirmation on at least 124 additional nominations. According to the Washington Post/Partnership for Public Service’s tracking of the top 600 executive positions requiring Senate confirmation, only half are nominated and confirmed.
The average time to confirm a Trump nominee is taking a historic 84 days. That means if Brashears wins confirmation, it’s unlikely she will take over until late summer or early fall at the earliest.
Generally speaking, Senate Democrats cannot defeat Trump nominees, but they can and do use a bag of procedural tricks to delay them from getting to the necessary floor votes. Secret “holds” can be placed on a nominee by individual Senators and the minority party can demand 30 hours debate ahead of any nominees floor vote.
Once the White House sends over the formal nomination for Brashears to serve as Under Secretary for Food Safety to the Senate, it’s certain to be assigned to the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition & Forestry.
The appointment of Ken Barbic as USDA’s assistant secretary for congressional relations was the most recent to clear the Ag committee and get a favorable floor vote. It took 103 days.
While Food Safety News last October alone reported that Brashears was one of two candidates for Under Secretary for Food Safety under serious consideration by the White House, she was last in the news during the June 2017 BPI-ABC trial.
Her testimony, including a cross-examination that turned combative, likely contributed to the decision by Disney-owned ABC News to reach a settlement favorable to South Dakota-based BPI. The undisclosed settlement ended a state jury trial tasked with deciding whether ABC News had defamed BPI by repeatedly calling its lean finely textured beef product “pink slime.”
Brashears testified with her smile and Texas twang at trial for BPI as one of the nation’s top beef safety experts. She said BPI’s textured beef product was “definitely meat and definitely beef” and not “pink slime.”
Her cross-examination by ABC’s attorneys from the prominent Williams & Connolly law firm in Washington D.C. was tough and spirited, but Brashears was still left smiling. Disney financial statements later indicated ABC’s legal settlement with BPI was at least $177 million.
“Her highly acclaimed work evaluates interventions in pre- and post-harvest environments and on the emergence of antimicrobial drug resistance in animal feeding systems. These efforts have resulted in the commercialization of a pre-harvest feed additive that can reduce E. coli and Salmonella in cattle,” Secretary Perdue’s statement said.
In addition to her research, Brashears has led international research teams to Mexico, Central and South America to improve food safety and security and to set up sustainable agriculture systems in impoverished areas.
Brashears has served as a past-Chair of the National Alliance for Food Safety and Security.
Dec. 13, 2013, was the last day Dr. Elizabeth Hagen served as USDA’s Under Secretary for Food Safety. She was nominated in 2010 by President Obama and quickly confirmed by the U.S. Senate.