Statement of CFA's Carol Tucker Foreman On Selection of Dr. Garry McKee as FSIS Administrator

July 23, 2002
Contact: Art Jaeger (202) 387-6121

“The Bush Administration’s decision to name an individual with public health credentials to lead the agency that conducts one of the nation’s important public health programs is a step in the right direction. Dr. Garry McKee has more than 20 years of state government health experience and has not worked for the regulated industry. Coming on the heels of the second largest meat recall in history, we hope that Dr. McKee’s selection signals a shift at USDA back to a more public health based, pro-consumer safety stance.

 “Consumer Federation of America has been increasingly critical of the Administration’s turn away from viewing meat and poultry inspection as a public health program. Public health specialists approach food safety from the perspective of what is necessary to prevent human disease. Over the past eight months, however, USDA has repeatedly returned to its position that pathogens are natural constituents of raw meat and poultry and that meat processors should not be held strictly accountable for limiting pathogen contamination. A public health approach requires that the Department give primary emphasis to limiting disease causing organisms in foods stamped ‘USDA Inspected and Approved.’

 “CFA’s optimism is tempered somewhat because Dr. McKee has no previous federal government experience and has never administered a program as large as the federal meat and poultry inspection system. FSIS employs over 7,500 people across the country. Since neither USDA’s under secretary for food safety nor the deputy under secretary has ever administered a large federal program, the inspection leadership now has a disturbing lack of practical experience.

 “One thing is certain. Dr. McKee will be under intense pressure from the food industry as USDA struggles to react to both the ConAgra beef recall and a new General Accounting Office report critical of its meat inspection system. Consumers have a tremendous stake in how he responds.”

 Carol Tucker Foreman is director of the Food Policy Institute at the Consumer Federation of America. She oversaw meat safety regulation as an assistant secretary of agriculture during the Carter Administration.