The head of the Food and Drug Administration on Tuesday announced an overhaul of the agency’s food safety and nutrition division, vowing that a new structure will better protect consumers and the U.S. food supply.
FDA Commissioner Robert Califf stated that he will create a new program for human food, headed by a deputy commissar with the authority to oversee policy, regulation and strategy in the area of the agency responsible for 80% of all the foods Americans consume.
“This is one of the most important changes in the history of the FDA,”Califf stated this in an interview.
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This merger combines two FDA programs with some regulatory authorities. Tapping a single leader “unifies and elevates the program while removing redundancies, enabling the agency to oversee human food in a more effective and efficient way,”Califf.
FDA has been under intense scrutiny for months over contamination in a Michigan plant that caused a national shortage of infant formula. And it follows a scathing report that found FDA’s food division was plagued by decentralized leadership, indecisiveness and a culture of “constant turmoil”This prevented the agency from taking necessary actions to safeguard public health. Over the years, criticisms of the agency have been levelled at it for not responding quickly to issues such as produce and baby food contaminations with heavy metals.
Califf’s actions drew mixed reviews from food safety advocates. Some said it was a good start, while others said he didn’t go far enough to dismantle ingrained structural problems.
“I think it does a good job of identifying the essential problems and addressing them head-on,”Peter Lurie is the Center for Science in the Public Interest’s director. This center focuses on nutrition and food safety for consumers.
Mike Taylor, who previously served as FDA deputy commissioner for foods and veterinary medicine, said the new deputy doesn’t appear to have full authority over the office responsible for inspecting company plants, laboratory testing, imports and investigations.
“If that’s the case, the human foods program at the FDA will remain fragmented and the deputy commissioner will not be empowered to make the change that is necessary,”Taylor stated. He also questioned whether the new deputy commissioner would control the program’s funding.
These changes are intended to streamline a complex leadership structure. FDA is responsible for overseeing many aspects of U.S. food supply, including human and veterinary medicines and medical devices. Some foods are also under the supervision of the Agriculture Department.
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Frank Yiannas will soon be leaving the FDA as deputy commissioner for Food Policy and Response. Susan Mayne is the director of the Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition. She said that Califf had asked for her to continue with the transition. Califf stated that the new deputy will report to him directly in spring.
In the revamped foods program, there will be a new center for nutrition that includes infant formula. There will also be an office to coordinate state efforts in preventing foodborne disease outbreaks. Plan also includes a new advisory board of food experts to provide advice on new technologies, nutrition, and food safety.
Under the new structure, the deputy commissioner will not oversee FDA’s veterinary medicine center. Califf said that’s because much of the center’s work involves animal drugs and devices, not food. Furthermore, animal feed industries were concerned about the possibility of it becoming a food industry. “subsidiary to human food,”Califf.
Mitzi Baum (president of STOP Foodborne Illness) was disappointed. She said that outbreaks, human foods, and animal foods are often interrelated and should all be included in the same program.
“Any change is messy. It’s going to be disruptive,”Baum stated. “Why not make all of the changes that need to be made in order to create the most efficient and effective agency?”
This article was contributed by the Associated Press
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