- With less than two weeks remaining before President-elect Donald Trump's inauguration, he has yet to name a nominee to head the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the lead agency dealing with food policy.
- The previous three presidents named their USDA nominees much earlier — before Christmas in the year they were elected. The delay, Bloomberg and Food Safety News report, is making some in rural states that voted overwhelmingly for the president-elect feel left behind.
- The USDA employs about 100,000 people, deals with about $140 billion in programs, and has offices in every county in the nation. With such a late handoff, the transition at the USDA may be quite bumpy.
Although Trump has a history of unpredictable policy statements on most things that come before him, what he may do that impacts the food industry has long been a mystery. And without a nominee for USDA just 11 days before his inauguration, that question mark casts an even longer shadow.
The vast diversity of potential candidates he's reportedly considering for the position — ranging from a brash champion of fried food in schools to a former Georgia governor and a former USDA undersecretary for food safety — also offer no guidance. Some of these candidates have reputations for carefully safeguarding food policy. Some are politicians and some are farmers. One of them (who said she would not take the position if it were offered) is even a Democrat.
With so much uncertainty hanging in the balance, it is difficult to predict what the new reality will be for the industry starting on Jan. 20. With a Republican-dominated White House and Congress, there have been groups calling for the end of many food-related government regulations. Trump's heavy-handed domestic policy style could impact areas vital to many farmers and retailers, including food exports and imports. A cabinet pick to oversee the industry could calm concerns on these matters — or give the industry reason to start making internal changes and ready its network of lobbyists.
The USDA itself is continuing to work on policy as usual, not anticipating any major shakeups. In the last weeks, it announced cost-sharing opportunities for producers and handlers making the transition to organic, as well as a comprehensive five-year plan for the Food Safety and Inspection Service.