Industry supports Codex move; Ronholm, Taylor opposed
September 27, 2017
A group of 43 agribusiness and commodity groups organized as the U.S. Food Industry Codex Coalition (FICC) sent a letter to Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, supporting his plan to move the responsibility for the U.S. Codex Office from the Office of the Undersecretary for Food Safety to the new Undersecretary for Trade and Foreign Agricultural Affairs.
But Brian Ronholm, an Agriculture Department deputy undersecretary for food safety in the Obama administration, and Michael Taylor, the Food and Drug Administration deputy commissioner for foods and veterinary medicine under Obama, both issued statements this week, arguing that moving the U.S. Codex Office to a trade division of USDA will make it harder for the United States to make credible cases for its positions in international forums.
Any opposition to Perdue's decision is unlikely to stop the shift because Perdue has the authority to move the Codex office, but the secretary did issue a Federal Register notice on Sept. 12 asking for comments until Oct. 7.
"This reorganization will elevate the visibility and strategic impact of U.S. Codex engagement and strengthen U.S. leadership in Codex to advance science-based global standards that protect public health and guard against unscientific barriers that impede U.S. food and agriculture trade," the coalition letter said.
The Grocery Manufacturers Association posted the letter on its website.
"GMA strongly supports the undersecretary for trade and foreign agricultural affairs as the multiagency coordinator for non-tariff trade barriers impacting U.S. food and agricultural exports," said Melissa San Miguel, GMA senior director for global strategies. "The broad support of the organizations signed onto this letter is a testament to the importance of U.S. Codex leadership. We will continue to work with USDA and other U.S. agencies through this transition. We look forward to Undersecretary-designee Ted McKinney's confirmation and to his vital leadership to advocate for science-based standards in the Codex."
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Ronholm, who is now with the law firm of Arent-Fox, said in an email that FICC's goal of advancing science-based global standards in Codex that guard against unscientific barriers impeding fair trade is "absolutely legitimate. However, moving the U.S. Codex Office to the trade mission area within USDA will actually weaken outreach efforts and ultimately be counter-productive. The best approach in advocating for science-based decisions within Codex that result in fair trade practices is for outreach strategies to be led by an agency focused on public health outcomes, such as FSIS."
Taylor, who also served as administrator of the Food Safety and Inspection Service and as acting undersecretary for food safety in the Clinton administration, said, "This unexpected move threatens the scientific credibility of the United States in Codex proceedings, which in turn would undermine the effectiveness of Codex itself in its mission to promote food safety and facilitate trade in safe food. There has been no dialogue with the broad food safety and consumer community that has a stake in the success of Codex and no explanation from USDA of the problem this move solves. I urge Secretary Perdue to withdraw the proposal and reconsider it through a transparent and inclusive process. The credibility and effectiveness of Codex are too important to jeopardize through hasty action."
Taylor is a senior fellow at the Meridian Institute and a consultant to the Global Food Safety Partnership, a public-private partnership hosted at the World Bank. In addition to his government positions, Taylor has worked for Monsanto and as a private sector lawyer specializing in food safety.