GALVESTON, TX — The $2 billion hog market slaughter industry will get more flexibility, and USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service will have greater inspection oversight.Mindy Brashears, the USDA deputy undersecretary for food safety, says the long-awaited swine modernization program is going be reality by year’s end.

Brashears, still new to the job, is quickly coming up to speed.

“No one can really tell you about this job,” she says, “until you get in and start doing it.”

She started six months ago and has become the chief advocate for the next rounds of FSIS modernization.

Past changes, like after the E. coli crisis, put FSIS in the reactive mode, she said.

“I look at modernization as the way to prevent the next crisis,” she added.

And in her search of her new place of employment Brashears found something that could only excite a former professor — data. Or, as she calls it, “the data that’s just sitting here.” She acknowledges that FSIS is not a research science organization, but finds its data collection going back two decades or more based on “our protocols, our labs” is value that can be put work to help achieve the agency’s new goals.

She may, in fact, put the critics back on their heels by promoting modernization by the numbers.

For example, Brashears says that when tasks like food safety checks and sanitation verifications are all taken into account, the new option increases swine inspection by 4,7 percent. Critics have long depicted modernization as a lighter touch for  inspections that  some call  privatization.

But she also has data showing fewer pathogens are being found in facilities operating under modernization than the old scheme.

Brashears is a former food safety professor at Texas Tech University. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue named her as USDA’s deputy undersecretary for food safety six months ago. Brashears is also the undersecretary-designate awaiting U.S. Senate confirmation.

In wide-ranging interview with Food Safety News, Brashears made it clear the Modernization agenda is moving forward at FSIS, Swine modernization is on the short term agenda at FSIS, and beef is going to be just bit beyond that.

Poultry modernization went into effect in 2014, providing a new inspection option for young chicken and turkey slaughter facilities. A proposed final rule for swine modernization published in February drew more than 83,000 comments. Brashears says the agency is reading all the comments and putting them into categories for responses. She promises they are not just being “putdown a black hole somewhere.”

As for herself, Brashears said she did not start with any preconceived notions. She says as one works through the modernization issue, it brings around the food safety needs. “And I am strongly for that,” she said

President Trump nominated Brashear as Undersecretary for food safety 15 months ago. The Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry has recommended her confirmation.

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