The day after she was finally confirmed by the U.S. Senate, Mindy Brashears was back home in  Lubbock, TX, giving an Ag Appreciation Day speech to the local Chamber of Commerce.  After that, she’s found her new job is pretty much about COVID-19.

From her presidential appointment on May 4, 2018, to her confirmation by the U.S. Senate on March 23, 2020, 689 days passed.  It was a long wait for the former Texas Tech Univesity food safety scientist who is not known for her patience.

Her wait added 1 year, 10 months, and 19 days to the total time that America went without a presidential appointment and Senate confirmation of a food safety expert to serve as USDA’s Under Secretary for Food Safety.   The total time that elapsed while the office stood vacant was 6 years, 3 months, and 10 days.  The blame goes to presidents, past and present, and Senate bipartisan moves too numerous to mention.

In the year before her confirmation, Brashears was Deputy Under Secretary for Food Safety thanks to appointment by Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue.

Her Senate confirmation came just 12 days after the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the coronavirus Pandemic.

And the Public Calendar for USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) shows that COVID-19 became the subject of virtually every meeting with people from outside the agency that Brashears would have during her first month and beyond as Under Secretary for Food Safety.

Those with COVID-19 meetings with the Secretary during April included:

  • Michael Scuse, Delaware Secretary of Agriculture; Randy Day, Perdue Farms; Mark McKay, Perdue Farms; Lester Gray, Perdue Farms; and Herb Frerichs, Perdue Farms
  • Tom Bower, Senior Vice President of Supply Chain, Foster Farms; Dalton Rasmussen, President, Squab Producers of California; and David Rubenstein, Vice President of Operations, Pitman Family Farms
  • Ashley Peterson, Senior Vice President of Scientific & Regulatory Affairs, National Chicken Council
  • USDA-regulated Establishments and Industry Representatives
  • Chandler Keys, JBS
  • Chuck Penry, Tyson Foods
  • Mike Brown and Ashley Peterson, National Chicken Council
  • Ken Sullivan, Smithfield Foods
  • Michelle Kromm, Lori Marco, Jeff Grev, Jacob Bylund, Hormel/Jennie-O; Lisa Wallenda Picard, National Turkey Federation
  • Kathryn Unger, Katie Smith, and Jake Kuhns, Cargill

And COVID-19 continued to dominate Brashers meetings with outsiders during May.

  • Representatives from: Illinois  Department of Public Health, IL Ogle County Health Department, IL Department of Ag, IL Governor’s Office, CDC, Hormel
  • Mike Skahill, Smithfield
  • Representatives from: CDC, Texas State Health Services, TX Governor’s Office, TX Department of Ag, Texas Cattle Feeders Association, Caviness Beef Packers, Tyson, JBS, Cargill
  • Julianna Potts- Chief Executive Officer, North American Meat Institute
  • Representatives from: CDC, Wisconsin Governor’s Office, WI Department of Ag, City of Milwaukee, Cargill
  • Kathleen Glass, Associate Director, University of Wisconsin-Madison; Jeff Sindelar, UW-Madison; Chuck Czuprynski, UW-Madison; Kristin Schill, UW-Madison
  • Danielle Beck- Executive Director of Government Affairs, NCBA
  • Mitzi Baum- Chief Executive Officer, Stop Foodborne Illness; Lauren Bush- Co-board Chair, Stop Foodborne Illness; Mike Taylor- Co-board chair, Stop Foodborne Illness; Rob Swenson- Treasurer, Stop Foodborne Illness; Craig Wilson- Representative, Costco; Jorge Hernandez- Representative, and Wendy’s; Gillian Kelleher- Representative, Wegman’s
  • Barbara Glenn, Chief Executive Officer, NASDA; Felicity Mejeris, Manager of Food Safety Programs, NASDA; Aline Delucia, Senior Director of Public Policy, NASDA; Sara Arsenault, Manager of Public Policy, NASDA
  • Harrison Collins, Michael Best Strategies; Denise Bode, Michael Best Strategies; Patrick Firth, Michael Best Strategies; Steve Austin, Red Gold; Paul Palmby, Seneca Foods
  • Deidrea Mabry, Chief Operating Officer, American Meat Science Association

A month into her tenure as Under Secretary for Food Safety, President Trump signed an Executive Order to keep meat and poultry processing facilities open during the COVID-19 national emergency. The order would prevent meat shortages, but put USDA’s food safety office under pressure as some plants turned out to be COVID-19 hotspots, making it difficult to keep plants operating and sufficiently staffed with inspectors.

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