Changes in federal food safety policy and personnel are occurring with the new Biden Administration — officials are talking about some, but not others.

They left it to Sara Amundson, president of the Humane Society Legislative Fund to announce that the Biden government has officially withdrawn a pending rule by the previous administration that would have permanently allowed chicken slaughter lines to speed up from an already “lightning-fast 140 birds per minute to 175 per minute.”

The USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) has previously supported higher line speeds as an incentive for modernization and efficiency measures. It was an idea the Trump Administration inherited from the Obama Administration.

But unions and other groups that advocate for employees and animal welfare never liked the higher speeds for moving slaughtered poultry off the kill floor.

Amundson said the withdrawal “is simply common sense,” claiming the higher line speeds would be “an animal welfare and worker safety nightmare.” She also said higher speeds would contribute to “another terrible spike in COVID infections.”

The Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, a unit of the Office of Management and Budget, withdrew the maximum line speed rule under the New Poultry Inspection System. Neither the industry nor FSIS personnel has commented.

The reason for that silence is likely the ongoing shake-up of top FSIS staff. President Biden did not ask Mindy Brashears to remain at USDA until he could appoint her successor.

She filled that post, the USDA Under Secretary for Food Safety, for just 10 months. Said to be the American government’s top food safety post, it went vacant for the six years prior to Brashers’ confirmation by the U.S, Senate.

The job’s duties are now the responsibility of Paul Kiecker, who’s been moved from FSIS administrator to “Acting Deputy Under Secretary for Food Safety.”

Kiecker, who joined the FSIS in 1988 as a food inspector, most recently was appointed FSIS administrator in 2020 and previously worked as its acting administrator until January 2019. He also served in other roles with the agency, including serving in regulatory operations and working as district and deputy district manager in several states. He also worked with the Office of Investigation, Enforcement, and Audit as a compliance investigator and as a supervisory compliance officer.

Terri Nintemann, with the title of “Acting Administrator” has taken over for Kiecker at FSIS. Nintemann has served in several senior leadership roles in FSIS since she joined the agency in 2003. 

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has a new boss. Dr. Rochelle P. Walensky is the 19th CDC director, taking over for Dr. Robert R. Redfield.

Walensky arrived at CDC from Massachusetts General Hospital where she was chief of infectious diseases. She was also a Harvard Medical School professor.

Walensky has conducted research on COVID-19 vaccine delivery and was known for HIV screening and care in South Africa where she did clinical trial design and evaluation.

At the Food and Drug Administration, Janet Woodcock is the acting commissioner.    

In addition to serving as the acting FDA Commissioner, she is director of the Center for Drug Evaluation and Research (CDER), a department of the FDA. Woodcock joined the FDA in 1986 and has held a number of senior leadership positions, including terms as the Director of CDER from 1994 to 2004 and from 2007–2020. 

The National Consumers League  called her “a passionate advocate for American patients and consumers, an ally to patient advocacy groups, and a fearless leader at the FDA.”

Woodcock, 72, has overseen changes to both CDER and FDA, including a new initiative to improve the timeliness and transparency of FDA procedures, and the safety, quality, and effectiveness of drugs.  In 2015, Woodcock received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Institute for Safe Medication Practices, in recognition of “a significant career history of making ongoing contributions to patient safety.”

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