USDA gets new food safety head

The former deputy for food safety at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has been promoted.

Brian Ronholm has been named the acting undersecretary for food safety, The Hill has confirmed, making him the top-ranking food safety official in the country. He replaces Elisabeth Hagen, who left for an advisory post with the consulting firm Deloitte this month.

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President Obama has yet to name a permanent successor to the position.

The appointment was first reported by Food Safety News earlier on Thursday.

Ronholm has been in the post since Monday.

He started as deputy undersecretary in 2011, after working for Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) on agriculture appropriations issues. DeLauro was the former chairwoman of the House subcommittee responsible for USDA funding and has long been vocal about food safety.

As acting head of food safety at the USDA, Ronholm will oversee the Food Safety and Inspection Service, which regulates most meat and poultry and some egg products.

Hagen served in the post since 2010, during which time she oversaw a range of efforts to strengthen the country’s food safety rules. Among those were draft regulations requiring mandatory labeling of mechanically tenderized meat and a proposed overhaul of poultry plants inspections.

Ronholm and whomever the president nominates to permanently fill the slot will be tasked with completing work on those regulations, as well as a host of other efforts to combat E. Coli, salmonella and other food-borne bacteria.

In coming months, the USDA’s food safety agency is planning to release draft regulations defining when meat and poultry products can be labeled as “natural” and addressing a number of trade issues.