WASHINGTON (FNS) -- David A. Kessler's announcement last week that he plans to quit his job as Food and Drug Administration commissioner was greeted with relief by food industry officials who dealt with him.
Kessler, who surprised Clinton administration officials with the Nov. 26 announcement, said he will step down when a successor is named.
"We look upon this as an opportunity to see someone take over the FDA who is more interested in working with the food industry cooperatively to solve problems rather than take an adversarial role," said John Block, president of Food Distributors International, Falls Church, Va. "We're hopeful better times are ahead in which we can do a better job of serving the public."
Block described Kessler as a "grandstander" who preferred to take problems to the media rather than deal with the industry. "He has always been a grandstander trying to elevate his own image," he explained. "His way of approaching things was to make a big public display to get public attention. I'm hopeful we'll have someone in the job who the industry can work with."
Kessler's attacks on the tobacco industry -- and the subsequent federal regulations that were imposed to restrict the promotion and sale of cigarettes to teens -- were a burden to retailers already complying with state regulations, noted Tom Wenning, senior vice president and general counsel for the National Grocers Association, Reston, Va.
"We are looking forward to whoever replaces him at the FDA to have an open mind and listen to all points of view," Wenning said. He added that Kessler cooperated with the food industry on adopting uniform nutrition labels.
C. Manley Molpus, chief executive officer of the Grocery Manufacturers of America, Washington, said in a statement, "We supported him when we believed he was right, disagreed with him when we believed he was wrong and always tried to assure the best policies for America's consumers."
A spokeswoman for the Food Marketing Institute here said FMI is looking forward to hearing who the new FDA commissioner would be.
Serving under Republican and Democratic presidents -- George Bush and Bill Clinton -- Kessler has been FDA commissioner for more than six years. He touched off a firestorm in 1994 when he announced that he was investigating whether the FDA should regulate nicotine as an addictive drug. In August, he announced regulations to crack down on cigarette promotion.
Kessler was expected to stay at the FDA until those regulations take effect next spring. But he reportedly has been wooed by several universities, and his wife has made no secret of the fact that she was tired of Washington politics.
On Nov. 22, the Clinton administration asked Kessler to stay for the second term. However, Kessler, a pediatrician and an attorney, said he was ready to return to private life. As of the middle of last week, the administration had not made any announcements on replacements for Kessler.
During his tenure, Kessler began work on uniform nutrition labeling for food, focusing on processed foods labeled as fresh and other foods labeled as cholesterol-free or low-fat. He began charging drug manufacturers a fee to get products reviewed more quickly, and he unsuccessfully tried to apply food health-claim rules to vitamin manufacturers. He also approved genetically engineered hormones to boost milk production and required seafood processors to use stringent quality-control programs. It was also during his tenure that the FDA approved olestra, a fat substitute, for use in snack foods.