Food Safety and Inspection Service: Who is Elisabeth Hagen?

Sunday, May 09, 2010

Despite his declaration that the government needed to address the nation’s “troubling trend” with outbreaks of food poisoning, President Barack Obama took almost a year to appoint Elisabeth Hagen as head of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS). Although Obama made the announcement on January 25, her confirmation hearing with the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry has yet to take place. If confirmed for the job, Hagen will be responsible for running an agency with 7,300 inspectors that’s supposed to ensure the safety of meat, poultry, and egg products consumed by Americans.

Hagen was not Obama’s first choice for the job. Nor was she his second. In February 2009, the administration approached Mike Doyle, a nationally known microbiologist who directs the Center for Food Safety at the University of Georgia. Doyle was interested in the position of undersecretary of agriculture for food safety, but not at the expense of giving up his financial investment in a patented microbial wash for meat that he had developed. White House officials wanted the divestiture to avoid a potential conflict of interest.
With Doyle out of the picture, the administration turned to Caroline Smith DeWaal, director of food safety at the Center for Science in the Public Interest. But DeWaal’s status as a registered lobbyist killed her chances of winning the job, although the Center later stated that she was not really a lobbyist.
Finally, Obama turned to Hagen.
Hagen, 40, attended college at Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia, where she received her Bachelor of Science. She went to medical school at Harvard, graduating in 1996, and completed her specialty medical training at the University of Texas Southwestern and the University of Pennsylvania. She is board certified in infectious diseases.
Hagen taught and practiced medicine in both the private and academic sectors, before joining the USDA in 2006 as a senior executive at FSIS. She was responsible for developing and executing the agency’s scientific and public health agendas, and worked to foster coordination with food safety and public health operations at the federal, state, and local level.
Hagen was then promoted to USDA’s chief medical officer, advising the department on a wide range of human health issues.
Hagen is said to be a bit of an unknown on the subject of food safety, because she hasn’t published any papers, articles or books on the topic. But her nomination was well-received by the meat industry. The American Meat Institute supported Hagen’s selection, as did the National Pork Producers Council.
Consumer advocates, on the other hand, had little to say about Hagen, considering her positions on many relevant issues to be something of a mystery.
-Noel Brinkerhoff
Washington Post)


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