FDA revamping foods program to move past ‘constant turmoil’
The head of the Food and Drug Administration on Tuesday announced an overhaul of the agency’s food safety and nutrition division, vowing that a new structure will better protect consumers and the U.S. food supply.
FDA Commissioner Dr. Robert Califf said he would create a new human foods program led by a deputy commissioner with authority over policy, strategy and regulatory activities for the part of the agency that oversees 80% of the foods Americans eat.
“This is one of the most important changes in the history of the FDA,” Califf said during an interview.
The move merges two existing FDA programs and some regulatory authorities. Tapping a single leader “unifies and elevates the program while removing redundancies, enabling the agency to oversee human food in a more effective and efficient way,” Califf said.
The announcement follows months of scrutiny of FDA over contamination at a Michigan factory that led to a nationwide infant formula shortage. And it follows a scathing report that found FDA’s food division was plagued by decentralized leadership, indecisiveness and a culture of “constant turmoil” that impeded actions to protect public health.
For years, the agency has been criticized for responding too slowly to outbreaks in produce, heavy metals in baby food and the need to reduce sodium in the U.S. diet, among other issues.
Califf’s actions drew mixed reviews from food safety advocates. Some said it was a good start, while others said he didn’t go far enough to dismantle ingrained structural problems.
“I think it does a good job of identifying the essential problems and addressing them head-on,” said Dr. Peter Lurie, who heads the Center for Science in the Public Interest, which focuses on consumer nutrition, food safety and health.