WASHINGTON — President Obama has unveiled a plan to reform food safety laws and to strengthen the Food and Drug Administration, moves long sought by the food retailing industry.
As supermarket operators have been buffeted by recall after recall — most recently the ongoing peanut-product saga — they have increasingly called for stronger food safety oversight.
“The most important goal of food retailers and wholesalers is to ensure the products they sell are safe — consumers demand that,” Jennifer Hatcher, group vice president, government relations, at Food Marketing Institute, Arlington, Va., told SN. “The massive recalls with [Peanut Corp. of America] ignited efforts on the Hill to review food safety and determine what more can be done.”
Following the introduction earlier this month of new food safety bills in both the House and Senate, Obama said he would create a Food Safety Working Group that would seek to update regulations protecting the nation's food supply. He also said he would seek $1 billion to add food safety inspectors and upgrade testing laboratories.
“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,” the president said in a radio address.
He also named Margaret A. Hamburg as the new commissioner of the FDA and Joshua Sharfstein as its principal deputy commissioner.
Hamburg was an assistant director of health during the Clinton administration, and has had an extensive career in public health that also included serving as health commissioner of New York City. She made her mark seeking to combat the spread of infectious diseases. She succeeds Dr. Andrew C. von Eschenbach, who left the position in January with the arrival of the new administration.
Sharfstein is Baltimore's health commissioner.
Grocery Manufacturers Association, Washington, issued a statement in support of the moves: “The FDA is America's food safety watchdog, and the president's appointment of these two prominent public health professionals is a clear signal that this administration has placed a priority on bolstering FDA's food safety role. In addition, we support the president's creation of a White House Food Safety Working Group to facilitate better coordination among federal agencies as well as to review and improve the nation's food safety laws.”
Hatcher of FMI said the nation needs more than just additional food safety inspections.
“We need cultural change — a culture of good food safety practices,” she said.
Additional reporting by David Orgel