With regard to concerns about political appointees, those responding to the UCS survey were “asked whether the presence of top agency decision makers who have come from the food or agriculture industry ‘inappropriately influences the decisions made by the agency.’” The largest number of respondents (43 percent) said they were undecided. Slightly more respondents agreed with the statement of inappropriate influence (31 percent) than disagreed (26 percent).

Industry groups will find support in the near balance of those who agreed and disagreed with the assertion that “the presence of top FSIS/FDA decision makers who come from the food or agriculture industry inappropriately influences the decisions made by the agency.” At the same time, food safety watchdog groups will argue that nearly one-third of those who responded to the survey felt there was inappropriate influence is cause for concern.

To us, that over 500 respondents indicated they felt that top-level decision makers who came from industry improperly influenced agency decisions represents a problem. When it comes to food safety, one would hope agency codes of conduct would be so clear that those who disagreed with the statement on inappropriate influence would strongly outnumber those who agreed.

One thing that suggests the reliability of these percentages is that “in their opinions about political and corporate interference in agency actions, survey responses from individuals with industry experience were virtually identical to those without industry experience.” It should be noted that “top agency decision makers,” whether from industry or other sectors, were not included in the survey.