If you had a nickel for every study recommending consolidation of all federal food safety agencies into a single independent entity, you would have a lot of nickels.

Think tanks and academic studies, and legislative auditors and White House staffs have all come to that conclusion. I think of it as the “European solution” because it would leave us with something like the European Food Standards Agency reporting to a Board of Directors.

It still would have to get its money from the government.

Had Congress ever given President Obama the power to reorganize federal government agencies subject only to a Congressional veto, there were reports that creation of such a single food safety agency was high on his list.
Obama did not get the opportunity to reorganize food safety. The ponderous organization chart remained unchanged as the federal government went into a partial shutdown last Dec. 22.

Now that the government is back up and running, for at least the next three weeks, it’s worth noting that the cranky, old way of doing things may have saved the day.

I’m told that during the first government shutdown during President Reagan’s term that USDA furloughed all of its meat and poultry inspectors, briefly forcing the shutdown of all of the nation’s slaughter plants and processing facilities.

After shutting down that entire industry, which requires continuous inspection, the federal Food Safety, and Inspection Service declared its inspectors to be “essential” during future budget lapses.

So its thousands of meat and poultry inspectors worked without pay and the meat industry was not again shut down.

We were also lucky that the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta did not experience a lapse in funding. CDC’s budget was among the majority of federal agencies that was funded through the regular appropriations process. CDC’s funding was critical for not only foodborne diseases but all sorts of infectious outbreaks.

The U.S Food and Drug Administration (FDA) saw its funding lapse and at best had 200 of its 550 food safety inspectors on the job, apparently focusing on high-risk facilities and imports.

Food safety during the partial shutdown was an “on” and “off” again thing.  Its much-maligned organization across as many as 15 federal agencies means it was not all shut-down. The staff that worked for a month without seeing a paycheck kept it all going.

Food safety’s current structure sure isn’t pretty and almost no one says it’s the organization they’d design if doing it from scratch today.  But like that movie with the big worms living under the desert, food safety showed some real resilience during the shutdown and the organization we love to hate was an asset at least at the moment.

Who knows if a single federal food safety agency would have been on the wrong side of this year’s funding lapse? It just worked out this time that they did not get all hose multiple agencies.

And with everybody is going back to work tomorrow, our Senate friends on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee have a little work to redo,

During the partial government shutdown, the White House resubmitted the nomination of Dr. Mindy Brashears as Under Secretary of Agriculture for Food Safety.  It is the highest food safety job in the federal government, and our beautiful politicians with all their bipartisan skill have managed to let the job go vacant for more than five years.

When the always efficient U.S. Senate could not manage to give Professor Brashears a floor vote last year during the 115th Congress, it was returned to the President.  Senate Ag as recently as last Dec. 5th called for a favorable Senate floor vote for Dr. Brashears.   Here’s how this saga has come down so far:


May 4, 2018
Appointment announced

May 10, 2018
Referred to Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry committee

Dec. 5, 2018
Reported out favorably

Jan. 3, 2019
Returned to president

Jan. 16, 2019
Appointment announced

Jan. 16, 2019
Referred to Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry committee

Footnote:   About 800,000 government employees missed a couple regular paydays, causing hardships for those without savings.   In anticipation of a timely Senate confirmation, Dr. Brashears moved her family from Lubbock, TX to the Washington D.C. last year.