President Announces New FDA Commissioner and Principal Deputy Commissioner, and Pledges to Toughen Food Safety LawsMarch 16, 2009
By Ricardo Carvajal–
In an address highlighting the need to tackle problems with the nation’s food safety system, President Obama today announced the appointments of Dr. Margaret Hamburg as the new FDA Commissioner and Dr. Joshua Sharfstein as Principal Deputy Commissioner with primary responsibility for drugs and biologics. Dr. Hamburg currently serves as Senior Scientist with the Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI). She previously served as Vice President for the Biological Program at NTI, Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Commissioner of Health for the City of New York, and Assistant Director of the Institute of Allergy & Infectious Diseases at the National Institutes of Health. Dr. Sharfstein is Commissioner of Health for the City of Baltimore. Previously, he served as a health policy advisor on the Government Reform Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives.
It is widely believed that Dr. Sharfstein was not selected for the top spot to in order to avoid opposition from the pharmaceutical industry and possible confirmation problems stemming from that opposition. Ironically, Dr. Sharfstein, in his more narrow role will not be distracted by the non-drug aspects of the agency, and will have even more time to focus his attention on pharmaceutical issues.
The President also announced the formation of a Food Safety Working Group to be comprised of cabinet secretaries and senior officials that will offer recommendations on updating food safety laws, help improve coordination within government, and ensure that existing and new laws are enforced. The Working Group is expected to work on a fast track. Finally, the President pledged to invest a billion dollars to strengthen the nation's food safety system, in part by modernizing labs and hiring additional food inspectors. The full text of the address is available here.