Tell Your Senators: Don’t Put a Scientist-for-Hire in Charge of Food Safety!

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Mindy BrashearsMindy Brashears is a scientist who has spent her entire career helping the industrial factory farm meat industry avoid taking responsibility for its food safety failure.

Now, Trump wants to put Brashears in charge of regulating that same industry—a move that could spell disaster when it comes to the safety of your food.

TAKE ACTION: Tell Your Senators: Don’t Put a Scientist-for-Hire in Charge of Food Safety!

Trump has tapped Brashears to serve as Undersecretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Food Safety & Inspection Service (FSIS).

While serving as a Texas Tech University scientist, Brashears earned hundreds of thousands of dollars for work done directly for factory farm industry giants, including Beef Products Inc., the Nutrition Physiology Company, Cargill, Merck and Perdue Farms.

Brashears has a long history of being on the wrong side of the food safety debate. She took $335,000 from Beef Products Inc., a South Dakota beef processor, to help the company slap ABC News with a $1.9 billion defamation suit for characterizing the company’s product as “pink slime.”

The term “pink slime” was coined by USDA microbiologist Gerald Zirnstein after touring a Beef Products plant as part of an investigation into recent contamination. He used the term “pink slime” in an email to colleagues, adding, “I do not consider the stuff to be ground beef, and I consider allowing it in ground beef to be a form of fraudulent labeling.”

Beef Products calls it “lean, finely-textured beef.” The New York Times was the first news outlet to report the food safety scandals associated with the product called “ammonia-treated beef.” The Times described it as “a product made from beef that included fatty trimmings the industry once relegated to pet food and cooking oil” that is treated with an “ammonia process” to compensate for the fact that the “trimmings were particularly susceptible to contamination.”

As a paid expert witness for Beef Products, Brashears claimed that the product was safe, wholesome and “100 percent beef.” With Brashears’ help, Beef Products forced ABC News to settle

Brashears’ expert opinion on what to call Beef Products’ ammonia-treated fatty trimmings can’t hide the food safety problems with the product. It doesn’t change the underlying facts revealed in a 2009 New York Times report of USDA data which found E. coli in Beef Products’ product three times and salmonella 48 times, including back-to-back incidents in August 2009, in which two 27,000-pound batches were found to be contaminated.

This food safety debacle prompted the pink slime campaign that cost Beef Products $1.9 billion in business. Still, Americans continue to eat burgers made with the product

Brashears profits from food safety techno-fixes

When most people think of ways to increase food safety in the meat industry, they come up with a list of common-sense solutions. Slowing slaughterhouse line speeds. Returning cows to their natural pasture-only diet. Reducing the number of processed meat products that combine the flesh of thousands of animals.

Brashears doesn’t think like that. As her fondness for ammonia-treated pink slime indicates, her preference is to develop and sell to the meat industry technological “fixes” that mask the inherent dangers of factory-farmed meat.

According to documents obtained by the Texas Observer and submitted by Brashears to her employer, Texas Tech University, Brashears has several financial relationships with corporations that meet the standard of  “Significant Business or Financial Interests.”

These ties would create conflicts-of-interest for her as head of FSIS, or as an academic:

$215,000 paid to Brashears by Nutrition Physiology Company, LLC, an Oklahoma company that distributes Bovamine, a cattle probiotic developed by Brashears and endorsed by the FSIS. Brashears’ research shows that Bovamine is effective at reducing the levels of harmful microorganisms in beef cattle. An unspecified portion of the payment was compensation for making sales pitches to feedlot operators.

$500,000 ownership interest in MicroZap, which sells a device that uses “directional” microwaves to kill harmful microorganisms in food. In a 2008 study published in Poultry Science, Brashears and colleagues determined that directional microwave technology can reduce salmonella in whole-shell eggs without damaging their quality. Brashears acknowledges that “positive outcomes of research could result in sales of equipment and a financial gain for me personally.”

Ownership interest in NexGen Innovations LLC, which markets a lactic acid probiotic called Probicon developed by Brashears. In a Dairy Management Inc.-sponsored study, which looks at using lactic acid bacteria to curb listeria levels in cheese, Brashears lays out the potential conflict: “If work is successful, it could result in sales of the probiotic that is used in the research project. Sales would benefit me as an owner,” she wrote. Among other Texas Tech faculty with an ownership stake in NexGen is Brashears’ husband, Todd.   

We should pass laws to stop people like Brashears from lining their own pockets by marketing profitable techno-fixes like these to our federal food safety regulators.

Short of that, we could at least prevent people like Brashears from becoming federal food safety regulators.  

TAKE ACTION: Tell Your Senators: Don’t Put a Scientist-for-Hire in Charge of Food Safety!


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