WASHINGTON – Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue has acted on a proposed reorganization of several services and agencies within the US Dept. of Agriculture, and not all the changes are welcome.
In a memorandum issued Nov. 14, Perdue eliminated the Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration (GIPSA) as a standalone agency and re-established it in the Fair Trade Practices program of the Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS). Perdue had proposed this and several other changes in a reorganization plan unveiled in September.
“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,” Perdue said in the memo. “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.”
In October, R-CALF USA urged Perdue to keep GIPSA as a standalone agency and under his control. In comments sent to Perdue, R-CALF said GIPSA had failed to carry out the agency’s statutory obligations, and this has enabled large meatpackers “…to act with impunity to reduce if not vanquish competition in US livestock markets.”
“…the reason GIPSA has not yet protected marketplace competition is because the USDA has lacked necessary leadership to perform its obligation of strengthening America’s family farm system of agriculture,” R-CALF said.
Perdue also transferred the US Codex Office to the Office of the Under Secretary for Trade and Agricultural Affairs from the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS). The Codex Office manages the United States’ participation in the Codex Alimentarius, a United Nations body develops international food standards.
The North American Meat Institute (NAMI) submitted comments in October in support of this organizational change, saying the move would “…elevate US Codex engagement, enhance the visibility of the US Codex Office in overall US policymaking, and place a greater emphasis on US strategic engagement with Codex, including the use of Codex objectives to ensure the use of science-based standards in the trading system.”
“Moving the US Codex Office will provide an opportunity for current Codex Office staff to serve not only as technical and scientific experts within the Codex Office, but also as educators and consultants to those developing trade policy in the Office of the Under Secretary for Trade,” according to NAMI’s comments.
But Dr. Peter Lurie, MD, M.P.H., president of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, said the move indicated to US trading partners that “…food safety takes a back seat to trade.”
“Despite the USDA’s reassurance that the Under Secretary for Food Safety will still chair Codex meetings, the move of the little-known but influential office is a mistake,” Lurie said in a statement on the CSPI website. “The administration has not yet even nominated a permanent Under Secretary for Food Safety. And at a time when other key USDA offices are being populated by country club cabana attendants, pesticide lobbyists, and other unqualified political campaign operatives, the Codex office’s move is more troubling still.”