Dr Margaret Hamburg, the Obama Administration’s pick to lead the FDA, easily cleared the Senate on Thursday, while the Administration proposed a record budget increase for the agency.
A shake-up for the department has looked likely since a rash of food contamination scandals has rocked the food industry, particularly the recent salmonella outbreak linked to peanut products, which brought problems with the federal food safety system into the spotlight.
In her hour and a half’s hearing, Hamburg said that her focus as FDA Commissioner would be on food safety – which would be granted an extra $260m under the budget proposal.
“Domestically, this means taking advantage of the growing consensus among experts and industry that now is the time to shift to a food safety system that puts prevention first,” she said. “Important steps must be taken to protect the nation’s food supply — from farm to fork — to strengthen our food safety system to prevent outbreaks from happening in the first place. Globally, this means increasing FDA’s attention and energies to import safety.”
She also said that food labeling is an important issue to help consumers understand potential risks.
“I think it is very important that the government lead the way with communicating critical information, in terms of establishing guidelines and standards, and in many cases, mandating certain kinds of activities.”
Following her successful confirmation hearing, it is now expected that Hamburg will be officially confirmed as Commissioner within the next couple of weeks. The hearing had been pushed forward by the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, which cited the need to address the H1N1 influenza epidemic. Hamburg is an expert on bioterrorism and pandemics.
FDA funding boost
Just before Hamburg’s hour and a half hearing, the Obama Administration announced a request for a $3.2bn FDA budget for fiscal 2010. If granted, the 2010 budget would represent a 19 percent increase on the funding made available to the department this year, and the largest increase in FDA history.
The additional food safety funding would include $75m in increased user fees for plant inspections and registration of food production facilities. The plan must now be considered by Congress.
Obama promised a ‘complete review’ of the FDA at the end of January amid calls from food industry representatives, consumer groups and the Government Accountability Office for an overhaul of the FDA.