Shortly after taking the oath of office, President Obama made food safety a domestic priority. He called recent national outbreaks of food-borne illnesses a “troubling trend” and a “risk to public health.”
But more than a year later, the Obama administration has yet to fill the chief food safety official post at the Department of Agriculture. He just nominated someone though, Elizabeth Hagen, 40, a person few in the field had heard of before the announcement.
Hagen, a physician, has never published a word on the subject of food safety. She spent much of her career as a clinician and educator in the field of infectious diseases. She left practice 4 years ago for the USDA, where rose quickly through the department’s Food Safety and Inspection Service.
“Consumer advocates who work closely with [the Department of Agriculture] on policy issues have had limited direct experience with Dr. Hagen,” said the Consumer Federation of America in a release cited by the Washington Post.
Hagen was tapped for the post after the Administration approached at least two other people. Last February for example, it vetted and offered the job to Mike Doyle, a nationally recognized microbiologist. That nomination collapsed after Doyle refused to divest his financial interest in an effort to commercialize a microbial wash for meat.
Whoever fills the position will oversee the safety of meat, poultry and eggs, which comprise 20% of the nation’s food supply.
Last year, there were 13 recalls of beef products contaminated with E. coli. Already this year, there have been six recalls of tainted meats, including an ongoing situation with salami that has sickened hundreds in 40 states.