Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue is moving ahead with some reorganization moves just a few weeks after hitting the pause button so they could be discussed further.
Specifically, in a memorandum issued Tuesday, Nov.14, Perdue said he was directing that the Codex Alimentarius program in USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service be moved to the Office of the Undersecretary for Trade and Agricultural Affairs.
He also has decided to eliminate the Grain Inspection, Packers, and Stockyards Administration (GIPSA) as a standalone agency and move its functions to a new Fair Trade Practices Area in the Agricultural Marketing Service and to AMS’ Federal Grain Inspection Service (FGIS).
“The Packers and Stockyards Program, formerly part of GIPSA, and the Warehouse Act functions, formerly part of the Farm Service Agency, will be transferred to AMS and included in the Fair Trade Practices program area,” the memo says. “The grain inspection activities, formerly part of GIPSA, are to be included in (a) new program area” in AMS overseen by a new Deputy Administrator for FGIS.
USDA proposed the changes in September and received 94 comments, according to the regulatory docket.
In a letter last month to Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., the chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, Perdue said he was delaying the Codex and GIPSA moves because of concerns raised by stakeholders.
“USDA will continue to examine those issues before moving forward with those two pieces of the realignment,” he told the lawmakers.
The Food and Drug Administration and food safety groups had criticized the proposed move of the Codex program. In a letter to USDA, Stephen Ostroff, FDA's deputy commissioner for foods and veterinary medicine, said that the international Codex Alimentarius program “plays a critical role at the intersection of food safety and trade by developing science-based, voluntary food standards that governments may use to protect consumer health and provide a level playing field for food trade.”
“FDA strongly believes that moving Codex to the oversight of a trade promoting, non-science organization could undermine the credibility of U.S. Codex as a science-based enterprise,” Ostroff said. “Transfer of the U.S. Codex Office under a trade umbrella would build a perception that the United States places a stronger priority on advancing trade over public health.”
The Center for Science in the Public Interest blasted the move today. The group’s president, Peter Lurie, said that by moving the Codex program to the trade office, “Secretary Perdue is telling our trading partners and American consumers that food safety takes a back seat to trade in the Trump administration.”
“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. The administration has not yet even nominated a permanent Under Secretary for Food Safety.”
The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition had criticized the move of the Packers and Stockyards Administration to AMS. In September, NSAC said it had “very serious concerns … with placing a regulatory body, whose mission is to protect farmers from abusive and deceptive practices by packers and integrators, into a marketing and promotion agency. The purpose and function of the Packers and Stockyards Act is very unlike the other functions of AMS. It is also not clear, in the absence of any details, how the functioning and staffing of the Packers and Stockyards program would be maintained under the new plan.”
The GIPSA move also has been criticized by the Ranchers-Cattlemen Action Legal Fund, United Stockgrowers of America, or R-CALF USA. In comments submitted to USDA, R-CALF USA said “GIPSA should not be demoted by folding it into the AMS, where it will be removed from the direct oversight of the appointed Secretary and his appointed deputy and undersecretaries. “
In other changes to departmental structure, Perdue:
- Eliminated the Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion as a standalone agency and moved it to the Food and Nutrition Service. A new Deputy Administrator for Center for Nutrition Policy will carry out the programs of CNPP;
- Established a new Office of Partnerships and Public Engagement (OPPE) within the Office of the Secretary. The director of OPPE will oversee the Office of Advocacy and Outreach, whose director will in turn oversee a number of programs and activities within the department, dealing with small farms and ranchers, beginning farmers and ranchers, socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers, and military veteran farmers and ranchers;
- Established in AMS a Deputy Administrator for Commodity Procurement. “In order to consolidate commodity procurement across the department, the International Commodity Procurement program of the Farm Service Agency (FSA) is transferred to and merged into the domestic Commodity Procurement Program AMS,” the memo says;
- Established a Rural Development Innovation Center that will report to the Office of the Assistant to the Secretary for Rural Development.
- Moved the Office of Pest Management Policy from the Agricultural Research Service to the Office of the Chief Economist.
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