One year after taking office, President Obama has finally named his choice to fill the position of Under Secretary for Food Safety – the senior food safety post within USDA.
Dr. Elizabeth Hagen joined USDA in 2006 and was named to the post of USDA Chief Medical Officer four months ago. Board-certified in infectious diseases, Dr. Hagen both taught and practiced medicine before joining USDA.
Hagen's nomination comes while USDA, FDA, CDC and state agencies are investigating yet another meat-related food-borne disease outbreak – a Salmonella outbreak that has sickened at least 187 people in 39 states. The outbreak, which was linked to ready-to-eat Italian-style cured meats produced by Daniele International, Inc., triggered a recall of 1.24 million pounds of meat last week.
Dr. Hagen wouldn't have been my first choice for this crucial food safety position – I would have preferred someone with more background and training in the relevant sciences. Nevertheless, I am relieved that the President has finally settled on a nominee.
With yesterday's announcement of a discretionary budget freeze, funding of food safety programs within both USDA and FDA will be squeezed. Dr. Hagen and Michael Taylor – the newly named Deputy Commissioner for Foods at FDA – will have to lobby hard, both within the Administration and with Congress, to preserve intact the existing programs in both agencies.
I wish them both well. The safety of our food supply rests in large part on their performance.
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