USDA chief Tom Vilsack is once again on the verge of stepping in it regarding his pick for food safety czar, i.e. the head of the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service. Some may recall that back in March the Obama administration nearly appointed Dr. Michael Osterholm to the post only to back off when his views on meat irradation (aka “Zap the Crap”) proved too hot to handle. Ironically, Osterholm — who has ties to the meat industry, biotech heavyweight Monsanto and defense contractor 3M — is also a legitimate expert on pandemic preparedness, a skill which might’ve come in handy recently. Ah, well.

Now, swelling rumor has it that Dr. Mike Doyle is the leading candidate for the post. Obamafoodorama first reported the rumor late last week and it has solidified in recent days. Doyle meanwhile is proving at least as controversial as Osterholm and is just as closely allied with the meat industry. Via Ob Fo:

Doyle is currently Director of the Center For Food Safety at the University of Georgia, and a professor in the department of food safety and technology. His work at the land-grant university has been heavily funded by major meat industry concerns, and Doyle has won big acclaim for his industry-friendly policy wonking, in particular from the American Meat Institute, a huge pro-meat/low-government intervention lobbying force on The Hill. He’s also received big funding and support from the National Chicken Council, another industry lobbying group. He’s also recived a lot of funding from USDA’s own Agriculture Research Service. How invested is Doyle in the economics of food safety? He actually holds patents on a number of microbiological solutions for disease outbreaks.

That last bit means that he could personally profit from decisions he might make as head of FSIS. But I’m sure he’ll recuse himself from any decisions regarding use of his patented methods for disease management. I’m sorry, did I say something funny?

Doyle is being championed (again according to Ob Fo) by GOP Sen. Saxby Chambliss of Georgia. Note to Vilsack: Dude, the GOP LOST THE FRAKKING ELECTION!!! Since when do they get to pick top administration officials? And to hear that Vilsack is listening to Saxby Chambliss of all people, one of the idiots more conservative members of a party already far outside the mainstream, boggles the mind. And apparently, if the administration judges Doyle’s conflicts of interest to be manageable, he will in fact get the nod.

Doyle is also associated with the Animal Agriculture Alliance as well as the American Council on Science and Health (this report [PDF], lists him as on the ACSH science advisory board) — both industry-funded astroturf organizations whose shared mission is to undermine any research that questions the safety of industrial products or practices. To get a sense of where the Animal Ag Alliance is coming from, you simply have to read its full-throated defense of the use of sub-therapeutic doses of antibiotics in livestock from this attack on the recent Pew report documenting the dangers of livestock factory farms. In fact, Doyle recently spoke at an AAA “summit” where he discussed his research claiming that sub-therapeutic antibiotic use is crucial to “safe” livestock practices. I wonder what Congress, which is considering legislation to outlaw the practice, will make of this.

The only good news regarding Doyle is that his naming hasn’t been officially announced. We can only hope that Vilsack and Obama come to their senses before it’s too late.