Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

U.S. President Donald Trump signs the Executive Order Promoting Agriculture and Rural Prosperity in America as Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue looks on during a roundtable with farmers in the Roosevelt Room of the White House on April 25, 2017 in Washington, D.C. (Photo: Olivier Douliery-Pool/Getty Images)

Alarm Sounded Over Trump's 'Little Noticed' Push to Undermine Food Safety

"There has been no dialogue on this proposal with the broad food safety community and no explanation from USDA of the problem the proposed reorganization solves."

Jake Johnson

In what critics are describing as a move to prioritize exports over public health, the Trump administration is quietly planning to transfer work on international food safety standards from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) health arm to its brand new trade arm, which is supervised by former animal-drug industry executive Ted McKinney.

"There has been no dialogue on this proposal with the broad food safety community and no explanation from USDA of the problem the proposed reorganization solves."
—Michael Taylor, former FDA official
Politico's Helena Bottemiller Evich first reported the "little-noticed" plan on Monday. Much of the concern "involves the USDA's staff that manages the U.S.' participation in the Codex Alimentarius Commission, a little-known but powerful standards-setting panel that sits under the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization and the World Health Organization and is crucial for resolving trade disputes under the WTO," Bottemiller Evich notes.

The Codex Commission is currently debating whether to impose residue limits on the controversial drug zilpaterol, marketed as "beef-improvement technology" that is primarily used to promote growth in cattle.

Michael Hansen, a senior scientist at Consumers Union, told Politico that the Trump administration's decision to place McKinney—former global corporate affairs director of the animal pharmaceutical giant Elanco—in charge of what is often called "the food code" raises serious questions about "whether the U.S. will put even more pressure to make sure zilpaterol gets through."

The European Union, China, and other nations have insisted that zilpaterol—as well as ractopamine, a drug that promotes leanness and muscle growth in animals—is not safe for human or animal consumption and should not be used in food production. The U.S. approved the drug despite these concerns.

While representatives of the food industry were quick to praise the Trump administration's decision to place the Codex office under the watch of a former corporate executive, Michael Taylor, former deputy commissioner for foods at the Food and Drug Administration under former President Barack Obama, argued that the move had been undertaken with virtually no debate or discussion and that it "threatens the scientific credibility of the United States in Codex proceedings."

"There has been no dialogue on this proposal with the broad food safety community and no explanation from USDA of the problem the proposed reorganization solves," Taylor said.

The Trump administration's decision, Taylor concluded, could ultimately lower food safety standards, which would lead to "significant negative consequences in Africa and other developing regions."


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

We've had enough. The 1% own and operate the corporate media. They are doing everything they can to defend the status quo, squash dissent and protect the wealthy and the powerful. The Common Dreams media model is different. We cover the news that matters to the 99%. Our mission? To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good. How? Nonprofit. Independent. Reader-supported. Free to read. Free to republish. Free to share. With no advertising. No paywalls. No selling of your data. Thousands of small donations fund our newsroom and allow us to continue publishing. Can you chip in? We can't do it without you. Thank you.

Scientists Revive ‘Zombie’ Virus After 50,000 Years Trapped in Siberian Permafrost

Researchers documented 13 never-before-seen viruses that have been lying dormant, frozen in thick ice, over tens of thousands of years.

Common Dreams staff ·


'Cleaner Air Is Coming' as London Expands Vehicle Pollution Fee to Entire Metro Area

"Around 4,000 Londoners die prematurely each year because of long-term exposure to air pollution, with the greatest number of deaths in outer London boroughs," noted Mayor Sadiq Khan in announcing the expansion.

Brett Wilkins ·


'Amazing News': Historic Shark Protections Approved at Global Wildlife Convention

Up to 90% of sharks targeted by the lucrative fin trade will now be protected, said one advocate.

Julia Conley ·


'The Nightmare Materializes': Far-Right Extremist Itamar Ben-Gvir to Be Israel's National Security Minister

The Foreign Affairs Ministry of the Palestinian Authority said Ben-Gvir's elevation to national security minister could have a "catastrophic impact on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict."

Jake Johnson ·


Raging Wars, Soaring Hunger Put Women and Girls in Crosshairs, Warns UN

"A toxic mix of crises—conflicts, climate, skyrocketing costs, and the ripple effects of the Ukraine war—are inflicting a devastating toll on the forcibly displaced. This is being felt across the world, but women and girls are particularly suffering."

Brett Wilkins ·

Common Dreams Logo