Although her appointment is stalled in the U.S. Senate with hundreds of others, the nomination of Mindy Brashears as the next U.S. Under Secretary for Food Safety puts a real face on the long-time vacancy.
It’s been four years and 10 months since Elisabeth Hagen stepped down as the Under Secretary for Food Safety at USDA’s Food Safety Inspection Service. The job was intentionally left vacant for the last three years of the Obama Administration. Then the Trump Administration took more than a year to name Brashears.
It all adds up to USDA being without a president-appointed and Senate-confirmed Under Secretary for Food Safety for the past four years and ten months. The top food safety job in the federal government was created by law 25 years ago.
When nominated last spring, Brashears focused for a time on getting ready for a Senate confirmation hearing and other details. Hearing nothing from the committee, her attention returned by fall to her life at Texas Tech University.
Brashears continues her teaching and research at TTU while waiting on the Senate.
Specifically, it is the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry that has not managed to get around to the task it was assigned five months ago today. The nomination of the USDA Under Secretary for Food Safety has not made the Committee’s agenda even for the half day it might have taken for the confirmation hearing. The committee isn’t into multitasking and all its attention has gone to the mostly failed efforts to get a new Farm Bill.
Brashears is not alone. USDA has 13 top jobs that can only be filled by presidential appointments, which require Senate conformation. The Senate has confirmed seven of those appointments, leaving Brashears and five others either unconfirmed or still without a nominee.
While she waits, leadership at USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) remains the pair chosen by Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue; namely acting Deputy Under Secretary for Food Safety Carmen Rottenberg and acting Administrator Paul Kiecker.
Perdue has named Rottenberg as FSIS Administrator with Kiecker as her deputy. Since they were first temporarily named in 2017 to the top FSIS jobs by Perdue, Rottenberg and Kiecker haven’t been waiting for the new Under Secretary to arrive on the scene before moving forward with decisions.
Moving forward has included everything from publishing a New Swine Slaughter Inspection System (NSIS) to issuing alerts about the potential for contaminated poultry. And, during the past two years, Rottenberg and Kiecker have become known for aggressive outreach to parties of all sorts outside the federal government.
During the summer months, for example, the public calendar issued by FSIS shows Rottenberg and Kiecker had so many meetings on their calendars that they likely could have used Brashears to take up some of the slack. Here are some examples:
- The North American Meat Institute’s Barry Carpenter, U.S. Meat Export Federation’s Paul Clayton, and National Pork Producer’s Council Nick Giordano meet with Rottenberg June 4 about Export Certificates.
- National Chicken Council’s Ashley Peterson and U.S.A. Poultry and Egg Export Council’s Jean Murphy meet June 5 with Rottenberg about exports.
- Peter Matz and others with the Food Marketing Institute met with Rottenberg and Kiecker and others on June 11 about Listeria Guidance.
- A delegation from Del Monte gave Rottenberg and Kiecker an “overview”on June 12.
- Kiecker met with Cargill’s Angie Siemens on June 12 about “inspection modernization.”
- Rottenberg and Kiecker and others had another meeting about “exports” on June 12; this one with a group from the North American Casing Association.
- Food safety technology, veterinarian staffing and a roundtable on the Accredited Lab Program (ALP) were among the larger meetings for Rottenberg and Kiecker from June 14 to 20.
- Later in the month, they attended sessions on egg membrane harvesting, imports, and new technologies.
- Rottenberg was on the road to Salt Lake City for the International Association for Food Protection (IAFP), where on July 9 she did several media interviews including one with Food Safety News.
- Kiecker on July 16 met with Casey Gallimore from the North American Meat Institute (NAMI) about the modernization of inspections systems.
- Rottenberg, Kiecker and others discussed Salmonella Performance Standards with National Chicken Council’s Ashley Peterson and Keystone Foods’ Brian Covington on July 23.
- Chinese poultry was up for discussion on July 24 with Rottenberg and IEG Policy’s Margarita Raycheva.
- High-pressure processing was the topic of an Aug. 2 meeting involving Rottenberg, Kiecker, and others from FSIS with a delegation from Universal Pure and Siscon Inc.
- The FSIS leadership also attended a meeting of the Partnership for Food Safety Education on Aug. 2.
- United Egg Producers sent a delegation to meet with Rottenberg and others at FSIS about the Egg Safety Rule.
Rottenberg did several more media interviews in August, and met with several other company representatives for “updates.” In addition, Rottenberg and Kiecker continued their near-monthly separate meetings with consumer and industry representatives.
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