US: We have a candidate for under secretary with a pulse—she will also need a spine
Posted: January 30th, 2010 - 1:16pm
Monday evening my blackberry received an email notifying me that Dr. Elisabeth Hagen was about to be nominated to become the fourth Senate confirmed under secretary for food safety at the USDA. Subsequent press releases and Meatingplace.com's Tuesday AM news report proved my informant was absolutely correct. The irony of the timing is that I was with Mike Doyle and Cathie Woteki that day at a meeting discussing food safety and the empty position of under secretary.
But maybe the bigger irony, or statement of why an under secretary is so badly needed, is the next story that immediately followed the announcement of a nominee in Meatingplace.com Tuesday AM. This second story reported that the USDA had just told NAMP (North American Meat Processors) that whole carcass, low dose irradiation (carcass pasteurization as Dr. Marsden likes to call it) was off the table and going nowhere because the "petitioner has several concerns that need to be addressed." Maybe they could have addressed these concerns somewhere during the five years AMI's petition has been at the USDA?
More telling, the story went on to say that they were denying the petition "because of other recent events, processing aids in general are under greater scrutiny right now." Now I get it. People are freaking out over the recent revelation that some beef products were being treated with ammonia as a processing aid to help reduce E coli counts. So now the USDA does not have the spine to take on the consumer groups over another processing aid that would save lives.
This huge policy decision was made just prior to the announcement of the Administration's nominee for under secretary. Was her opinion as chief medical officer at USDA even sought? Was Secretary Vilsack provided with the science behind the request? Most importantly, can it be retracted by a strong willed, Senate confirmed, under secretary who will place the public's health first, using science to back her decision?
Industry, Dr. Hagen needs to hear from you on this issue, and hopefully this blog will restart the conversations based on the science that Dr. Marsden and I have been trying to stimulate on this subject. We need this processing aid added to the tools that industry currently utilizes.