IDFA praises USDA Codex shifts but Ronholm calls move mistake
September 11, 2017
The International Dairy Foods Association has praised the Trump administration's decision to move the U.S. Codex Office from the Food Safety and Inspection Service to the Office of the Undersecretary for Trade and Foreign Agricultural Affairs, but Brian Ronholm, a top food safety official in the Obama administration, said the move is a mistake that will make it more difficult for the United States to prevail in international decision-making.
International Dairy Foods Association President and CEO Michael Dykes said in a news release, "IDFA welcomes this timely move. Placing the U.S. Codex office in the Trade and Foreign Agricultural Affairs area helps to ensure that Codex standard-setting activities will be founded on strong science, result in real public health benefits and facilitate fair trade of U.S. dairy products around the world.
"U.S. dairy product companies continue to face trade barriers in getting safe, nutritious dairy products into markets around the world due to foreign regulations that are often protectionist in nature and aren't designed to truly protect public health," Dykes added. "We look forward to working with the undersecretary and his staff on Codex and trade issues affecting agriculture and the U.S. dairy industry."
But Ronholm, a deputy underesecretary for food safety under Obama, wrote in Food Safety News today, "While the move may seem inconsequential on the surface, this realignment will undermine the United States' credibility in the international food policy arena, and represents yet another effort by the Trump administration to emphasize trade goals at the expense of food safety."
Noting that Codex Alimentarius is a United Nations standards-setting body, Ronholm, who is now with the Arent Fox law firm, wrote, "Within Codex, the U.S. faces challenges from other countries who are attempting to impose views of appropriate food standards that are not supported by science. While the challenges from these other countries have been formidable, the U.S. Codex Office has been able to execute a strategic outreach program that has proven successful in gaining support for U.S. positions worldwide."
"The primary factor in the success of these outreach programs is the credibility the U.S. Codex Office has possessed from the public health foundation provided by being housed under FSIS," Ronholm said.
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"Whether warranted or not, there exists a perception among many countries that U.S. Codex positions are significantly influenced by industry trying to enhance trade opportunities at the expense of consumer and public health interests; this perception has long complicated Codex proceedings and negotiations for the U.S. However, the U.S. Codex Office has been able to push back effectively on that narrative by virtue of its emphasis on science, and public health goals supported by its standing within FSIS."