Rottenberg’s last 6 months were busy, and were over before the storm

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In March, when Mindy M. Brashears became the fifth Senate-confirmed USDA Under Secretary for Food Safety and Paul Kiecker moved up to be theUSDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service Administrator, it’s likely neither could have imaged the meat industry crisis that was in store for them.

But just as former FSIS Administrator Carmen Rottenberg left government to form Groundswell Strategy with veteran lobbyist Randy Russell, the coronavirus pandemic put all of USDA into crisis mode.

April was like no month in the history of FSIS as Brashears and Kiecker had to scramble with beef, pork, and poultry plants closing or reducing production because too many employees were infected with the virus. The daily possibility of having too few FSIS inspectors available for some plant to remain open was also a problem.

And FSIS had to be quick about consulting with FDA, CDC, OHSA, and even EPA so the federal government could provide guidance to all sorts of businesses to get the country open again. Much of this action occurred during April.

The FSIS issues public calendars for the Under Secretary for Food Safety and the FSIS Administrator and his or her deputies. The public calendars are for any meetings with people outside the federal government.

April was the first full month since Rottenberg’s departure. And since it is not yet available, Food Safety News’ periodic review of the public calendars this time will focus on the last six months of Rottenberg’s tenure.

Six months before her exit in September 2019 Rottenberg and others from FSIS met with Travis Arp and others from the Denver-based U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF). The topic was reported as “export issues.”

Later in the month, Rottenberg and others from FSIS met in Washington D.C. with Dave Carter, executive director of the National Bison Association, and numerous ranchers about bison inspection.

Rottenberg also was interviewed by CNN, CBS, USDA Radio, and other media outlets about the swine slaughter modernization rule.

With five months to go, in mid-October 2019, Rottenberg and others from FSIS discussed Siluriformes inspection with representatives of the Catfish Farmers of America and The Catfish Institute.

Rottenberg also discussed swine modernization with Joel Roberson and Michael Skahill, both with Smithfield Foods Inc.

With four months to go, Rottenberg and others from FSIS met on Nov. 12 met with a delegation that was in town for the quarterly meeting of The Partnership for Food Safety Education,  a nonprofit organization with a mission to end illness and death from foodborne infections in the United States.

The next day, Rottenberg was back talking about Siluriformes imports, but this time with the U.S. Seafood Distributors Association. Later Rottenberg was interviewed by a farm publication about Thanksgiving food safety.

With just three months to go, Joe Harris, president of the Southwest Meat Association, was in Rottenberg’s office to talk about regulatory reform for small and very small plants. Rottenberg also did some radio interviews as part of FSIS’s talent recruitment for open meat inspector positions

Labeling was the issue for Mike Brown, president and Ashley Peterson, senior vice president, both of the National Chicken Council. They met with Rottenberg and others from FSIS on Jan. 6.

Brian McFarlane, head of JBS USA technical services, and Sherri Williams, with JBS USA’s food safety and microbiology programs, meet with Rottenberg on Jan. 7 about “data sharing and operational updates.”

Rottenberg and others from FSIS were dialed into a teleconference on export issues with representatives of several industry organizations ranging from the USA Poultry and Egg Export Council to the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association to the National Pork Producers Council.

Rottenberg next discussed state inspection and cooperative interstate shipment programs with state agriculture secretaries from Oklahoma and Tennessee.

With just one month to go, Rottenberg participated with others from FSIS in a “recall roundtable” that on Feb. 5 in Washington D.C. Industry representatives that also participated were from Cargill, Hogan Lovells, Hormel, the National Chicken Council, the National Turkey Federation, North American Meat Institute, Olsson Frank Weeda, OSI Group, Smithfield Foods, and Tyson Foods.

Rottenberg also got an “operational update” from a delegation from Smithfield Foods Inc. on Feb. 5.

With the exception of December, Rottenberg and Brashears continued their practice of each month holding separate meetings with industry and consumer representatives. The Office of Food Safety (OFS) is headed by the Under Secretary for Food Safety.  Command of FSIS falls to the Administrator. Food Safety News publishes the anticipated attendance list for these meetings, once or twice a year.  Here are those signed up for February 2019:

Consumer Representatives (OFS)

  • In-person Attendance:
    • Sarah Sorscher Center for Science in the Public Interest

    • Tony Corbo Food and Water Watch

    • Robyn Robbins United Food and Commercial Workers

    • Thomas Gremillion Consumer Federation of America

  • Teleconference Attendance
    • Pat Buck Center for Foodborne Illness Research & Prevention

    • Kara Morgan Center for Foodborne Illness Research & Prevention

    • Tanya Roberts Center for Foodborne Illness Research & Prevention

    • Mitzi Baum Stop Foodborne Illness

Consumer Representatives (FSIS)

Industry Representatives (OFS)

Industry Representatives (FSIS)

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