The Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry will finally conduct a public nomination hearing on Nov. 28 for Mindy Brashears to become USDA’s under secretary for food safety.
Six months and 24 days after President Donald J. Trump nominated Brashears for the post, the Senate committee will hear public testimony on her nomination.
Nomination hearings are generally the prelude to a committee vote that, if positive, results in an up or down confirmation vote on the Senate floor. By scheduling the nomination hearing on Nov. 28, it’s just possible that Brashears could be confirmed and take office by mid-December, roughly five years since someone has been in the Under Secretary for Food Safety job.
Trump nominated Brashears on May 4 to fill the federal government’s top food safety post. After Dr. Elisabeth Hagen stepped down from the job in mid-December 2013, the previous administration held off on finding a replacement. It left Al Almanza in charge of both the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) and USDA’s Office of Food Safety.
Then it took Trump well into his second year to nominate Brashears. And since the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry got the assignment to review the Brashears nomination on May 10, until now it’s been fixated on Farm Bill spending, not food safety.
But on Nov. 28, all that history will be put aside to focus on Brashears and two other Trump appointees who are up for top USDA jobs. The other two are Naomi Earp who is nominated as assistant secretary of agriculture for civil rights, and Scott Hutchins as under secretary of agriculture for research, education, and economics.
Brashears is a professor of food safety and public health and the director of the International Center for Food Industry Excellence at Texas Tech University. Since her nomination, Brashears won the American Meat Science Association’s (AMSA) 2018 Distinguished Research Award.
Since 1965, the award has recognized members with outstanding research contributions to the meat industry. The goal of the AMSA is bringing together the commercial, academic, government and consumer audiences of the American meat sector. The organization has more than 1,000 members dedicated to improving all aspects of meat science.
Her research program focuses on improving food safety standards to make an impact on public health. Her acclaimed work evaluates interventions in pre- and post-harvest environments and on the emergence of antimicrobial drug resistance in animal feeding systems.
Brashears’ work resulted in the commercialization of a pre-harvest feed additive that can reduce E. coli and Salmonella in cattle. She’s led international research teams to improve food safety and security. She is past chair of the National Alliance for Food Safety and Security and the USDA multi-state research group.
Her international research teams to Argentina, Belize and Mexico have helped establish sustainable agricultural systems in impoverished areas.
Brashears is also a faculty member for the Texas Tech Center for Biodefense, Law and Public Policy at the Texas Tech School of Law. Throughout her career, Brashears has received more than $22 million in research grants and obtained 21 U.S. patents.
Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue has urged the Senate to confirm all of the USDA nominees, saying this specifically about Brashears:
“Food safety is at the core of USDA’s mission because it directly affects the health and well-being of millions of Americans every day. President Trump has made an excellent choice in Dr. Mindy Brashears, and I am excited to have her join the team. Dr. Brashears has spent decades finding ways to improve food safety standards through innovation, invention, and leadership on research missions across the globe.
“I look forward to her bringing that wealth of expertise and track record of results here to USDA.”
The Secretary of Agriculture and 12 other top jobs at USDA require both a Presidential nomination and Senate confirmation. The Senate has only confirmed seven of USDA’s top 13 posts.
But that isn’t usual. Observers say Senate Democrats have worked to delay confirmation of Trump appointments. The process can be slowed down if senators demand the maximum time for floor debate before votes occur.
According to the Washington Post and the Partnership for Public Service, the Senate has confirmed only 377 of 702 “key” presidential appointees. Currently, 182 Trump appointees are waiting for a Senate confirmation vote. The president has not yet nominated people for 134 of the “key” jobs.
At next week’s nomination hearing, the success Brashears and Hutchins have had in business endeavors is likely to come in for scrutiny. Hutchins, nominated as USDA’s chief scientist, has spent his career at Dow AgroSciences with the sort of expertise in pesticides that some activists don’t like much.
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