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A precondition for health is having access to safe food,” said Margaret Hamburg, who became commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration on May 22, in a statement before the House Subcommittee on Health 12 days later.
A physician, former New York City commissioner of health, and former assistant secretary at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Hamburg, 54, becomes FDA head at a pivotal time in the agency’s history. With the food industry reeling from numerous food recalls of everything from spinach to peanut butter, and the Obama administration calling for an overhaul in the government’s regulation of food, Hamburg will be managing major changes in the FDA’s oversight of the food supply.
The changes in the FDA the Obama administration would like to make are reflected in its fiscal year 2010 budget, including an increase of $259 million for food safety, as well as in recommendations made earlier this month by its Food Safety Working Group. In addition, Congress has weighed in with the Food Safety Enhancement Act of 2009, which on June 17 was sent to the House of Representatives.
In her statement to the House Subcommittee on Health, Hamburg commended the draft of the Food Safety Enhancement Act for giving the FDA more enforcement power. She cited the provision holding companies accountable for “implementing effective measures to prevent contamination.”
She also observed that the bill would provide the FDA with the “new legal authorities” to detain food and gain access to records from food suppliers. The bill’s authorization of a $1,000 annual fee on food manufacturers to support inspections of their facilities got Hamburg’s approval, though it has been criticized by the industry.
Hamburg views the agency’s mission “as a protector of public health, rather than a body that simply issues and enforces regulations,” said Leslie Sarasin, president and chief executive officer, Food Marketing Institute.
— Michael Garry