President Barack Obama has outlined a major overhaul of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which has been the target of criticism amidst a series of high-profile foodborne illness outbreaks.
The president's plan would increase the number of food inspectors and update labs to better monitor the nation's food supply. He also toughened USDA rules, preventing sick cows from entering the food supply.
"Food safety is something I take seriously, not just as your president, but as a parent," Obama said in his weekly video address.
Obama has tapped former New York City Health commissioner Dr. Margaret Hamburg as FDA Commissioner. Dr. Joshua M. Sharfstein, Commissioner of Health for the City of Baltimore, was named as Principal Deputy Commissioner.
Obama also announced the creation of a new Food Safety Working Group. Obama said the Food Safety Working Group will be chaired by the Secretaries of Health and Human Services and the Department of Agriculture and it 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.
Obama said the government is taking two additional steps to improve food safety. The Department of Agriculture will close a loophole to prevent diseased cows from entering the food supply, and the government will invest in the FDA to substantially increase the number of food inspectors and modernize food safety labs.
The White House says Hamburg is 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. She 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.
Sharfstein serves as of the board of four affiliated nonprofit agencies. The White House says 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 Consumer Federation of America said it welcomed the appointments, noting the "series of inexplicable foodborne illness outbreaks" over the past several years that the FDA has been unable to prevent or identify in a timely manner.
"We hope that these talented and caring individuals will bring a new era to the FDA," the group said in a statement.