Big food-safety improvements are coming

Articles
March 18, 2009

Big food-safety improvements are coming

If President Barack Obama has his way, new appointees to head the Food and Drug Administration will help steer the nation away from policies he called a “hazard to public health.” They will run with his aggressive food-safety agenda, expressed in no uncertain terms approximately midway through his first 100 days. He scorched the Bush administration this week for underfunding FDA, and leaving it well short of enough inspectors to cover the nation’s 150,000 food processing plants and warehouses (5% are inspected each year). He said he would seek $1 billion in new funds in 2009 to add inspectors and modernize laboratories. He announced formation of the Food Safety Working Group to “upgrade our food safety laws for the 21st century.” The group will advise on updating laws, some of which haven’t changed since they were instilled at the start of last century under President Theodore Roosevelt, who like Obama is young for his office and reform-oriented. He promised an Agriculture Department rule change to keep sick or disabled cattle out of the food supply.

If President Barack Obama has his way, new appointees to head the Food and Drug Administration will help steer the nation away from policies he called a “hazard to public health.”  They will run with his aggressive food-safety agenda, expressed in no uncertain terms approximately midway through his first 100 days.

He scorched the Bush administration this week for underfunding FDA, and leaving it well short of enough inspectors to cover the nation’s 150,000 food processing plants and warehouses (5% are inspected each year). He said he would seek $1 billion in new funds in 2009 to add inspectors and modernize laboratories.

He announced formation of the Food Safety Working Group to “upgrade our food safety laws for the 21st century.” The group will advise on updating laws, some of which haven’t changed since they were instilled at the start of last century under President Theodore Roosevelt, who like Obama is young for his office and reform-oriented.

He promised an Agriculture Department rule change to keep sick or disabled cattle out of the food supply.

And last but not least, the president nominated Dr. Margaret Hamburg to be commissioner of FDA, and Dr. Joshua Sharfstein to serve as deputy commissioner. Hamburg first made her mark as New York City health commissioner, when she cut rates of drug-resistant tuberculosis, and promoted needle-exchange programs to slow the spread of AIDS among drug addicts under the tenure of Mayor David Dinkins. She has since served as a bioterrorism expert under President Bill Clinton.

Sharfstein is a pediatrician whom, if approved by Congress, would vacate his current post as Baltimore’s health commissioner. He is known for his challenge of FDA to restrict the use of over-the-counter cold medicines in children, a move the agency made.

With the potential infusion of these leaders at FDA, Congressman Henry Waxman (D-CA) tried to squelch a longstanding rumor that a new central food-safety agency would be created.

SupermarketGuru.com welcomes the FDA nominations and applauds the Obama moves. It is years overdue for Washington to act tough and smart as guardian of the national food pipeline; contamination incidents have tripled since the 1990s, a trend in need of reversal. “Protecting the safety of our food and drugs is one of the most fundamental responsibilities government has,” said the new president, who is trying to create distance fast from policies of the administration past.

Let’s raise our forks and knives to a new, improved food-safety era.