Mindy Brashears of Texas is the fifth Senate-confirmed undersecretary of food safety. She was confirmed with a voice vote of the U.S. Senate late Monday.

Brashears succeeds Dr. Elizabeth Hagen who stepped down as undersecretary for food safety six years, three months and 11 days ago.

Only four others have held the position, which is the highest food safety job in the U.S. government. The other four were Dr. Hagen August 2010 to December 2013; Dr. Richard A. Raymond July 2005 to January 2009; Elsa A.Murano October 2001 to December 2004; and Catherine Woteki July 1997 to January 2001.

During the lengthy 2,293 day vacancy in the job, the following has occurred;

  • President Barack Obama and former Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack did not name a successor to Hagen. Instead, they ended the last 1,134 days of the Obama administration with Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) Administrator Al Almanza also serving as deputy undersecretary for food safety, a job that ordinarily provides oversight to the FSIS administrator.
  • President Donald J. Trump went 470 days without appointing anyone as USDA undersecretary for food safety.
  • The time between when her appointment was submitted by the White House until Monday’s Senate confirmation vote took almost 700 more days.
  • During that time Brashears was twice recommended for nomination by the Senate Agriculture Committee and won widespread support from various stakeholders. However, hers was among dozens of other executive appointments that took a backseat to judicial appointments for the Senate’s time.

Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue got tired after a year of delay and named Brashears as deputy undersecretary for food safety. Just as was done with Almanza, that was a maneuver that did not require Senate confirmation.

In a little over a year as deputy undersecretary, Brashears became part of the threesome running FSIS that also included  Administrator Carmen Rottenberg and Deputy Paul Kiecker.   Together, they made progress with the modernization of hog and poultry inspection options that were more based on pathogen detection rather than observation.

That trio was broken up earlier this month when Rottenberg left the government to join veteran lobbyist Randy Russell in the launch Groundswell Strategy, a new consulting firm focused on customizing strategic approaches for clients that interact with regulatory agencies.  Kiecker is the new FSIS administrator.

Before Perdue named her as deputy,  Brashears had moved to the Washington D.C. area the previous fall and preferred working while waiting on the Senate to act on her confirmation.

Brashears arrived in Washington as a professor of food safety and public health and as director of the International Center for Food Industry Excellence at Texas Tech University.

Brashears was an expert witness in the June 2017 trial of BPI v. ABC News. As one of the nation’s top beef experts, Brashears told the Elk Point, SD jury that BPI’s product was “definitely a meat and definitely beef” and not “pink slime” as repeatedly depicted by ABC News. Shortly after her testimony, the Disney-owned ABC News agreed to settle with the Dakota Dunes-based BPI. Financial experts who follow Disney said it paid out at least $177 million to settle the dispute.

Brashears is also a past-chair of the National Alliance for Food Safety and Security.

In her new subcabinet post, Brashears will chair the U.S. Codex Steering Committee, which organizes the U.S. delegation to the Codex Alimentarius Commission.  Her responsibilities also include oversight of the Food Safety and Inspection Service, including policies and programs.  FSIS regulates the nation’s meat, poultry, certain egg products, and catfish.

The undersecretary for food safety was created by  Department of Agriculture Reorganization Act of 1994, signed into law in October 1994.

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