Pres. Obama Prioritizes Food Safety While Naming New FDA Chief

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Pres. Obama Prioritizes Food Safety While Naming New FDA Chief

Alongside the much anticipated appointment of a new Food and Drug Administration leader in his weekly address over the weekend, President Barack Obama detailed plans for an extensive overhaul of the beleaguered agency, including a billion dollar investment to keep tainted food and contaminated medications out of the system. Pres. Obama also revealed plans for the creation of a new Food Safety Working Group aimed at improving and enforcing coordination and communication among various government agencies.

The President also announced two other important measures over the weekend, including closing a loophole in the Department of Agriculture to prevent downer cows from entering the food supply, and a substantial increase in the number of food inspectors needed to modernize food safety labs. “Food safety is something I take seriously, not just as your president, but as a parent,” Obama said in his weekly video address.

To that end, Obama pointed to his selection of Dr. Margaret Hamburg as the new commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration and Dr. Joshua Sharfstein as principal deputy commissioner. The new Food Safety Working Group, meanwhile, will be chaired by the Secretaries of Health and Human Services and the Department of Agriculture, which will coordinate with other agencies and senior officials to advise the President on improving coordination throughout the government, examining and upgrading food safety laws, and enforcing laws that will keep the American people safe.

“Part of the reason is that many of the laws and regulations governing food safety in America have not been updated since they were written in the time of Teddy Roosevelt,” Obama explained. “It’s also because our system of inspection and enforcement is spread out so widely among so many people that it’s difficult for different parts of our government to share information, work together, and solve problems. And it’s also because the FDA has been underfunded and understaffed in recent years, leaving the agency with the resources to inspect just 7,000 of our 150,000 food processing plants and warehouses each year. That means roughly 95 percent of them go uninspected.

“That is a hazard to public health. It is unacceptable. And it will change under the leadership of Dr. Margaret Hamburg,” said Obama.

A nationally and internationally recognized leader in public health and medicine, and an authority on global health, public health systems, infectious disease, bioterrorism and emergency preparedness, Dr. Hamburg served as the Nuclear Threat Initiative's founding Vice President for the Biological Program. Before joining NTI, she was the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Prior to this, she served for six years as the Commissioner of Health for the City of New York and as the Assistant Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases of the National Institutes of Health.

Commissioner of Health for the City of Baltimore, Dr. Joshua M. “Josh” Sharfstein also serves as chair of the board of four affiliated nonprofit agencies. He has been recognized as a national leader for his efforts to protect children from unsafe jewelry and over-the-counter medication, and ensuring Americans with disabilities have access to prescription drugs. He is a member of the Board on Population Health and Public Health Practice of the Institute of Medicine.

The full audio of the address of President Obama’s weekly video can be viewed by visiting:

Industry reaction to the FDA and food safety regulatory changes will appear on on Tuesday.