McKee leaves top job at USDA food safety branch

Feb 27, 2004 (CIDRAP News) – Dr. Garry L. McKee is leaving his post as administrator of the US Department of Agriculture's (USDA's) Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) to take a position at the FSIS Technical Service Center in Omaha, Neb., USDA officials announced yesterday.

Dr. Barbara Masters, a veterinarian and current FSIS deputy administrator for field operations, will serve as acting administrator until a permanent replacement is named, according to the announcement by Elsa Murano, USDA undersecretary for food safety.

McKee, who was named administrator in July 2002, "chose to apply for the position in Nebraska to be geographically closer to his family," stated a USDA news release. He will serve as science advisor at the Omaha center, providing scientific and public health guidance to the staff.

McKee's departure comes in the wake of the USDA's investigation of the nation's first known case of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), or mad cow disease, discovered in Washington state in December.

An international panel of BSE experts praised the USDA's response to the case in a report issued early in February. But controversy erupted last week over allegations that the BSE-infected cow could walk when it was brought to the slaughter plant. The USDA testing program focuses on "downer" cattle at slaughter plants, and the agency said the cow was tested because an FSIS veterinarian found it was lying down when brought to the plant. If the cow could walk at the time, the USDA should be testing healthy-appearing cattle for BSE, critics have said.

Matt Baun, an FSIS spokesman in Washington, DC, told CIDRAP News that McKee's departure from the leadership post was purely voluntary. "Dr. McKee made the choice based on some family concerns; he wanted to be closer to them," Baun said. McKee, who was director of the Wyoming Department of Health before joining the FSIS, originally came from Oklahoma, he said.

Baun said the Technical Service Center, which has about 60 employees, provides support to the FSIS's 7,600 inspectors and veterinarians in the field. He said he believed McKee would start his new job next week.

The USDA statement said McKee developed the FSIS's first training program specifically geared to inspectors' assignments and "regionalized" training to make it more convenient for FSIS personnel. Murano said, "I commend the many contributions Dr. McKee has made as administrator, particularly improving inspector training."

Baun said Masters has been with the FSIS for 15 years and is currently in charge of the whole field staff of inspectors and veterinarians.

"Dr. Masters brings a wealth of expertise and experience to this position, having served with the agency in a number of important roles," Murano said in the news release. She said Masters helped the agency adopt the Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) food safety system.

In previous FSIS positions, Masters served as director of the slaughter operations staff, branch chief in processing operations, and officer with the slaughter operations staff and the technology transfer and coordination staff, the USDA said. She also has served as "inspector-in-charge" in a livestock slaughter and processing plant.

Masters earned her veterinary degree from Mississippi State University and served a food animal internship at Kansas State University.

See also:

Feb 26 FSIS news release

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