By Rita Jane Gabbett
Less than a month after USDA said it was postponing controversial organizational shifts for its Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration (GIPSA) and its Codex food safety office, Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue has moved ahead on both.
In a memo to stakeholders dated Nov. 14, Perdue outlined realignment of a number of USDA offices, including eliminated GIPSA as a standalone agency. Instead, USDA will establish within the Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) a deputy administrator for fair trade practices.
The Fair Trade Practices Program area will be comprised of the following AMS programs: Perishable Agricultural Commodities Act Program, the Country of Origin Labeling Program, and the Bioengineered Labeling Program.
The Packers and Stockyards Program formerly part of GIPSA and the Warehouse Act functions formerly part of the Farm Service Agency (FSA) will be transferred to AMS and included in the Fair Trade Practices Program area.
The Organization for Competitive Markets (OCM) issued a statement condemning the move, saying, “We are stunned that Secretary Perdue continues to erode farmers’ and ranchers’ anti-monopoly protections, as this action further weakens the marketplace safeguards we need to compete in an ever consolidating industry. America’s farmers and ranchers can’t take much more abuse by large multinational and foreign corporations, nor the facilitation of that abuse by the department that Abraham Lincoln once called “the people’s department.”
OCM is a non-profit public policy research and advocacy organization with a mission to represent the interests of family farmers.
Perdue also announced the U.S. Codex Office is transferred from the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) to the Office of the Under Secretary for Trade and Agricultural Affairs.
The move had been opposed by the Food and Drug Administration. In a letter to USDA officials in September, FDA’s Deputy Commissioner for Foods and Veterinary Medicine Stephen Ostroff said FDA had “significant concerns about the proposed transfer of the U.S. Codex Office from a science-based food safety mission USDA component to a trade promotion mission.” He asked USDA keep the office within FSIS.
In a blog, former Under Secretary for Food Safety Richard Raymond also opposed the plan, saying of Codex, “It is about food safety for all nations, and it is about fair trade. But mostly, it is about public health, and that is not what the Trade and Foreign Affairs Office is going to have front and center on its plate.
The Codex Alimentarius Commission (CAC) consists of more than 80 countries (each with one vote) that make the decisions and set the standards that comprise the Codex Alimentarius, which is a global set of standards designed to protect food quality and safety, including the safe level of veterinary drug residues in meat and poultry.
Perdue also eliminated USDA’s Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion (CNPP) as a stand-alone agency, noting its mission similarity to the Food and Nutrition Service (FNS). Instead, within FNS, a deputy administrator for the Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion will carry out the programs of CNPP.
He also established in AMS a deputy administrator for commodity procurement and merged the International Commodity Procurement program of the Farm Service Agency (FSA) into the domestic Commodity Procurement Program of AMS.
Perdue established a Rural Development Innovation Center that will report to the Office of the Assistant to the Secretary for Rural Development.
Within the Office of the Secretary, Perdue established an office to be known as the Office of Partnerships and Public Engagement (OPPE) that will be headed by a director who will report directly to the Secretary and be a non-career member of the Senior Executive Service.
Perdue said the changes would enhance customer engagement, maximize efficiency and improve agency collaboration. The changes are effective immediately.