September 23, 2015

From the President’s Cabinet to your Kitchen Cabinet: 5 Facts About the USDA

By Heather Roney

It has been a long time since much farming went on in Washington.

White House Sheep

Woodrow Wilson’s sheep at the White House

Fortunately, there is plenty of great farming and food production happening across the United States, and while the White House doesn’t keep farm animals on the South Lawn anymore, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) does keep the President and the executive staff in-the-know on food and farming related issues. We had the opportunity to visit and spend a day learning about the many roles veterinarians serve within the department. Here are some of the  things we learned:

#1 – The USDA is part of the Executive Branch.

In contrast with my previous post about the Legislative Branch, agencies, like the USDA are in the Executive Branch. The President of the United States heads up the Executive Branch and is advised by The Cabinet, which includes the vice president and the heads of 15 executive agencies.

 Executive Branch


#2 – The USDA is the largest federal employer of veterinarians in the United States.

Most veterinarians working for the federal government are employed by the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), with the next largest group by the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS). Federal veterinarians work in other departments within the USDA as well as other federal agencies like the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Homeland Security.

 #3 – The USDA logo depicts what they represent.


The USDA logo is a graphic representation of the land – the foundation of all agriculture. The symbol’s colors, dark green and blue, represent the essential elements of earth, air, and water.

#4 – The APHIS “shield” logo reflects their mission to protect and promote.

The Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service’s mission is to protect the health and value of American agriculture and natural resources. These efforts support the overall mission of USDA, thus the variation in the logo, the same rolling fields with a modified “shield” shape.

#5 – The Deputy Administrator of Veterinary Services is the US delegate to the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE). 

Veterinary Services

The OIE is based in Paris and is the standard setting body for international trade in animals. APHIS is divided into multiple program areas, but the one most veterinary students (at least those of us with a One Health interest) are familiar with is Veterinary Services. That program area is further divided (stay with me!) into 4 units:

  • Surveillance, Preparedness and Response (SPRS)
  • National Import Export Services (NIES)
  • Science, Technology and Analysis (STAS)
  • Program Support Services (PSS)


We spent most of our visit meeting with veterinarians within those units. Dr. Gary Egrie, a Farm Animal Welfare Coordinator with APHIS, set up a wonderful day for us that allowed us to meet a variety of people, a bit like speed-dating. We also sat in on an informational session about Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza and the recent outbreak. On our way back to the metro we had the opportunity to meet Dr. Matt Doyle, a Veterinary Medical Officer with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). We made a brief stop back on Capitol Hill to pick up tickets to see the Pope from the west lawn of the capitol; Radhika was fortunate to receive tickets through a lottery system from her Congresswoman Bonnie Watson Coleman of New Jersey. It just so happen that the Congresswoman was in the office when we stopped in so we got to meet her in person and thank her for the opportunity to see the Pope!


Radhika and I with Congresswoman Bonnie Watson Coleman

Radhika and Heather with Congresswoman Bonnie Watson Coleman

Tomorrow is the big day, we’re excited for this once in a life time opportunity, but a little concerned about travelling around tomorrow, wish us luck!