Editor’s note: In recent days we’ve recapped top news from 2018. Today we look toward 2019 and some of the names we expect to see in the food safety headlines around the world. Some are individuals, some are entities. All are on our radar.

This shared byline with my colleague across the pond, Joe Whitworth, marks the first time Food Safety News has had the benefit of input from a foreign correspondent as it prepares for a new year. All of us at FSN hope for good news out of the food safety arena during the 364 days that will follow Tuesday. But, all of us know that individual businesses, the food industry as a whole, and government agencies have a lot of work to do before foodborne illnesses will be exceptions instead of expectations.

Many of the specific government, business and industry names are already well known. Some will be reprising roles, which is good news in some cases, not so much in others. Others who are new on the scene are inheriting difficult, ongoing food safety problems. All of them will no doubt encounter as yet unknown situations that will impact real people.

Then there are the names that are not yet known — and almost certainly never will be known to the public at large. We begin with these unknowns, followed by our perspectives on names we expect to see in 2019 in Food Safety News.

Invisibles in the U.S. and around the world

  • Patient X — Foodborne illness victims easily turn into statistics during discussions about investigations, outbreaks, prevention strategies, regulations and reports. Yet, if it weren’t for them, it’s likely no one would be talking about food safety, much less doing anything about it.  
  • Researchers and scientists — Legions of these irreplaceable nerds spend every day of the year at labs in academic, government and industry settings. Some of them have the honor of being named as the lead researcher when their teams’ findings are published. But, that exposure doesn’t reach past their peers and reporters who do what we news people refer to as “spot coverage.” Without scientific research there would have been no advances in food safety in previous years and none in the years ahead. 
  • Public servants — From local restaurant inspectors to county health lab technicians to state departments of health and agriculture to federal employees, public servants are on the front lines of food safety. They inspect our food and the facilities that produce it. No matter what you think about the residents of the White House, No. 10 Downing, or any other world leaders, the rank and file workers that get the job done day after day are key to food safety.
  • Mainstream media — Our publication exists in large part because of the thousands and thousands of news people who have had their positions eliminated in recent years. Old school, classically trained journalists can debate the causes behind the decimation all night. In the long run, for the general public, the “why” doesn’t matter. What matters is the public has a right to know when outbreaks happen. People need to know when food is recalled, who’s responsible, and what’s being done to reduce foodborne illnesses. 

Business & Industry in the U.S. 

  • The lab meat people — Uma Valeti, cardiologist, co-founder and CEO of Memphis Meats, has one of the best known names in the world when it comes to lab-grown meat. Also known as cell-cultured meat, the product is the topic of debates ranging from whether such meat is actually meat to whether the production of it is in conflict with nature. Valeti, Memphis Meats and other names associated with lab meat will absolutely be in the headlines in 2019. 
  • JBS, Cargill, Kellogg, Fresh Del Monte Produce, McDonald’s et. al — Iconic brands and producers are increasingly in the glare of the food safety spotlight. These four were some of the biggest and best known names from 2018. The ongoing nature of news coverage about outbreaks and recalls means these players will continue to be on the tips of our fingers as we type up our reports in the coming years. They will be joined by the likes of foreign-based operations such as French baby formula maker Lactalis and the multi-national Tiger Brands, responsible for two high-profile outbreaks and recalls in 2018.
  • Industry trade associations — These groups include the Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement organizations in California and Arizona; the national Produce Marketing Association and the United Fresh Produce Association, both of which have international programs as well as strong participation in the United States; the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association; the American Frozen Food Institute; and groups representing poultry, dairy, egg, baking, etc. industries. Virtually all food industry associations have food safety recommendations, if not requirements, for members. They say they are working on improving food safety from “field to fork.” It’s time for consumers, government and retailers to hold industry to its promises.

U.S. government

  • Food and Drug Administration — Commissioner Scott Gottlieb has done a bit of restructuring, eliminating the position of deputy commissioner for foods and veterinary medicine. There’s a new title and a new face of food safety at the agency. Frank Yiannas, formerly Walmart’s global vice president for food safety, is in the FDA’s new post of deputy commissioner for food policy and response. Yiannas was a driving force behind Walmart’s blockchain program for product traceability, which reduced traceback time from several days to several seconds.
  • U.S. Department of Agriculture — Assuming their nominations actually make it to the Senate floor for confirmation, the USDA will have three new names making news in 2019. They were also among the names Food Safety News covered in 2018 as they survived a confirmation hearing before a Senate committee. Mindy Brashears is on deck as Under Secretary of Agriculture for Food Safety. Scott Hutchins is nominated for the job of Under Secretary for Research, Education, and Economics. Naomi Earp is the nominee for the post of Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights.
  • The 116th Congress of the United States of America — When the new Congress is sworn in, majority power in the House of Representatives will shift from the Republicans to the Democrats. The 435-member House is responsible for introducing all funding legislation for the federal government and some advocates hope the Democratic majority will mean better budgets for federal programs involving food safety. One Democrat in the House who routinely calls for stronger food safety programs is Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut. She is a member of the Food Safety Caucus and has been serving on the House committee that funds FDA.

Names to watch for in international circles

  • Elections for EU Parliament in May — At the moment, Jean-Claude Juncker is president of the European Commission and Vytenis Andriukaitis is European Commissioner for Health and Food Safety, but this will change when elections are held in May 2019. Manfred Weber is the European People’s Party (EPP) candidate for president of the EC. Commission vice president Frans Timmermans is the lead candidate of the Party of European Socialists (PES). Names you may hear next year could also come from the European Green Party or Alliance of Liberals and Democrats (ALDE). The European Parliament currently has 751 seats, but after the Brexit vote in the United Kingdom’s referendum of 2016, 27 of the UK’s 73 seats will be redistributed to other countries, while the remaining 46 will be kept for future enlargements. This means the number of Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) to be elected will be 705. Elections for the European Parliament take place every five years.
  • Heather Hancock, chair of FSA — She became chair of the United Kingdom’s Food Standards Agency (FSA) board in April 2016, but 2019 may well be her toughest year yet. On the one hand is the process of the UK leaving the European Union, which should happen by the end of March 2019. It is still not clear what type of deal, if any, will be reached with the EU. Pressure will come from industry and consumer groups on food standards as part of trade deals. While most food safety relevant EU laws will be carried over into UK law, it is not possible to do that for the skills, expertise and knowledge and it is unclear what will happen in the future. Most food safety risk management decisions are currently taken in Europe in the Standing Committee on Plants, Animals, Food and Feed (PAFF) or working groups. It is also not clear on the relationship the UK will have with the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and other EU agencies or access to systems such as the Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed (RASFF).
  • Bernhard Url reappointed EFSA’s executive director — The European Food Safety Authority’s (EFSA) Management Board has reappointed Bernhard Url as EFSA’s executive director. Url, a veterinarian by training, was unanimously nominated by the board as candidate in October. He appeared before members of the European Parliament’s Environment, Public Health and Food Safety (ENVI) Committee in October. He is scheduled to formally begin his second five-year term of office on 1 June 2019. The second term will involve the outcome of ongoing discussions regarding new transparency rules for EFSA and an increased budget with the agency expected to carry out more tasks. Jaana Husu-Kallio, chair of the board, said Bernhard “has led by example over the last five years. He has defined and driven a vision for EFSA’s evolution, remaining as committed to excellence and collaboration now as when he was first appointed.”
  • Catherine Geslain-Lanéelle may head FAO — She has been nominated for the position of director general of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations for 2019-2023. The role is currently held by Jose Graziano da Silva. Geslain-Lanéelle, 55, is former director general of the French Ministry of Agriculture and Food and former executive director of EFSA. She is the European Union’s only candidate. David Kirvalidze was also nominated for the position by Georgian Prime Minister Mamuka Bakhtadze. Candidates have until the end of February to bid for the role. Elections are scheduled for the FAO Conference in Rome on 22-29 June 2019.
  • Finnish Food Safety Authority changes names — The Finnish Food Safety Authority (Evira), Finnish Agency for Rural Affairs and part of the National Land Survey of Finland’s Centre for ICT Services will become the Finnish Food Authority (Ruokavirasto) at the start of 2019. Antti-Jussi Oikarinen was appointed as director-general of the Finnish Food Authority. Oikarinen has been the director-general of the Finnish Agency for Rural Affairs since 2017. The authority, with headquarters in Seinäjoki, will operate under the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry. The agency’s operations cover the entire country and will employ nearly 1,000 people in 20 locations.
  • Creation of Singapore Food Agency — Singapore is also going to see a change like Finland with a number of agencies combined into one. The Singapore Food Agency (SFA) will bring together food-related functions currently handled by the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA), National Environment Agency (NEA) and the Health Sciences Authority (HSA). The AVA will be disbanded while the NEA and HSA will continue to carry out non-food related functions. Lim Kok Thai, CEO of AVA, will be appointed in the same role for the SFA which will be under the Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources (MEWR). The agency starts work in April 2019.

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