NSAC's Blog

Dr. Elisabeth Hagen to be appointed Food Safety Under Secretary: on the to-do list, meat label claims

January 26, 2010

By Ferd Hoefner, NSAC

It has taken more than a year, but USDA finally has a proposed presidential appointment to the position of Under Secretary for Food Safety (see USDA press release below).  After all that time, with many prominent names from the outside floated over the last 12 months, the Administration has settled on an inside choice, Dr. Elisabeth Hagen, an Food Safety Inspection Service employee and infectious disease physician.  With so much contention over the position, going with a less well-known insider with strong credentials is likely to prove good politics.

There is much to be done at FSIS, and hopefully Hagen will prove up to the task.  While it is not likely to be at the very top of her “to do” list, NSAC hopes that before much more time elapses, Hagen will work with Under Secretary for Marketing and Regulatory Programs Ed Avalos and Secretary Vilsack to develop a comprehensive and consistent policy on meat label claim standards for sustainable livestock producers.

The current strong grass-fed meat label standard developed by USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) is being undercut by weak and contradictory FSIS policy. As AMS moves forward with similar standards for free-range, pasture-raised, no antibiotics, no hormones added and other critically important standards for sustainable livestock production and markets, getting FSIS’ house in order will be the make-or-break point for the success or failure of market creation, preservation, and growth efforts.

It should no longer be acceptable for two agencies within USDA to have programs and policies on the same issue in direct conflict.  With a new Under Secretary soon in place, now is the time to get on the same page in support of family farms and ranches, public health, and the environment.


Hot from the USDA press.


WASHINGTON, January 25, 2010— President Obama today announced his intent to nominate Dr. Elisabeth Hagen as the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Under Secretary for Food Safety. Hagen will serve with Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.

“There is no more fundamental function of government than protecting consumers from harm, which is why food safety is one of USDA’s top priorities,” said Vilsack. “We can and must do a better job of ensuring the safety of meat and poultry products regulated by USDA, and Dr. Hagen brings the background, skills, and vision to lead USDA’s efforts to make sure that Americans have access to a safe and healthy food supply.”

The Food Safety mission of USDA includes the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), which is the public health agency in the U.S. Department of Agriculture responsible for ensuring that the nation’s commercial supply of meat, poultry, and egg products is safe, wholesome, and correctly labeled and packaged. When the President announced the creation of the Food Safety Working Group last March, he said, “In recent years, we’ve seen a number of problems with the food making its way to our kitchen tables….That is a hazard to public health. It is unacceptable.” President Obama charged Secretary Vilsack and Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, the co-chairs of the Food Safety Working Group, with working to upgrade our food safety laws for the 21st century; foster coordination throughout government; and ensure that we enforce these laws to keep the American people safe. As part of this effort, Secretary Vilsack has instituted a top-to-bottom review of USDA’s food safety regulations.

Dr. Elisabeth Hagen is currently the USDA’s Chief Medical Officer, serving as an advisor to USDA mission areas on a wide range of human health issues. Prior to her current post, she was a senior executive at FSIS, where she played a key role in developing and executing the agency’s scientific and public health agendas. She has been instrumental in building relationships and fostering coordination with food safety and public health partners at the federal, state, and local level.

Before joining the federal government in 2006, Hagen taught and practiced medicine in both the private and academic sectors, most recently in Washington, DC. She holds an M.D. from Harvard Medical School, and a B.S. from Saint Joseph’s University. Dr. Hagen completed her specialty medical training at the University of Texas Southwestern and the University of Pennsylvania, and is board certified in infectious disease. She is married and lives with her husband and two young children in Northern Virginia.

Categories: Food Safety, Local & Regional Food Systems

2 responses to “Dr. Elisabeth Hagen to be appointed Food Safety Under Secretary: on the to-do list, meat label claims”

  1. Did I read that right, Food safety is the USDA's top priority.If Dr Hagen can fix GMO labeling I might just begin to believe that.

  2. -Experience and history has taught us to be suspicious. My suspicion tells me that with any new legislation small farmers' hands will be tied, or they will be burdened with excessive paperwork, registration fees, inspections or other red tape in the name of FOOD SAFETY. Large producers will remain unaffected while they produce and sell the same low quality crap with little government interference.