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Published August 24, 2010, 08:45 AM

Elisabeth Hagen tapped as new USDA food safety boss

WASHINGTON — President Obama on Aug. 19 appointed Dr. Elisabeth Hagen as Agriculture undersecretary for food safety on a recess basis rather than wait for the Senate to confirm her.

By: Jerry Hagstrom, Special to Agweek

WASHINGTON — President Obama on Aug. 19 appointed Dr. Elisabeth Hagen as Agriculture undersecretary for food safety on a recess basis rather than wait for the Senate to confirm her.

As undersecretary, Hagen will be in charge of federal food safety policy for meat, poultry and egg products and of food safety negotiations with other countries and international organizations. She also will be expected to work with the Food and Drug Administration on the Obama administration’s efforts to seek more coordinated food safety policy. The FDA is in charge of food safety for most other food products.

Hagen was one of five appointments announced together. Along with the appointments, Obama said in a statement, “At a time when our nation faces so many pressing challenges, I urge members of the Senate to stop playing politics with our highly qualified nominees, and fulfill their responsibilities of advice and consent. Until they do, I reserve the right to act within my authority to do what is best for the American people.”

Rumors confirmed

The exact reasons behind Hagen’s recess appointment were unclear, but there were rumors in Washington that the meat industry wanted an undersecretary for food safety in place while some Republican senators were balking at confirming nominees because they are upset about previously announced recess appointments and other matters.

The undersecretary for food safety has been the only subcabinet level position that has been left unfilled since Obama took office. The position of undersecretary for research, education and economics is vacant, but Obama has nominated Catherine Woteki, a former university and Mars candy executive, for that post. She would succeed Rajiv Shah, who left the post to become administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development.

Hagen has been USDA’s chief medical officer, serving as an adviser on a wide range of human health issues. Before her current post, she was a senior executive in the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service, where she played a key role in developing and executing the agency’s scientific and public health agendas

Before joining the federal government in 2006, Hagen taught and practiced medicine in both the private and academic sectors, most recently in Washington. She holds a medical degree 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.

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