Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Obama Nominates USDA Food Safety Head

Elizabeth Hagen To Lead USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service

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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