FDA officials acknowledged at a Senate hearing July 20 that they need to do a better job of ensuring a safe national food supply, as others called for a restructuring of the agency.
Appearing before a Senate Appropriations subcommittee, FDA Commissioner Robert Califf said that the agency’s food safety personnel were “working in a sub-optimal environment that needs to be reformed” and promised “a full review” of the agency’s food safety operations.
Senators on the panel criticized the agency’s oversight of food safety. "Serious concerns remain about the priority that FDA gives to food safety and the missteps that have led to outbreaks or critical shortages and individuals getting sick," subcommittee chair Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) told Califf.
The hearings were overshadowed by the baby-formula shortage that continues to plague parents nationwide. One senator asked why it took the FDA so long to respond to reports of contamination in an Abbott Laboratories formula plant when the agency acted so quickly on medical matters. Frank Yiannas, deputy commissioner for food policy and response, answered that the FDA had developed a new foodborne outbreak response and improvement plan.
Other witnesses called for the agency to be restructured, with the reinstatement of a deputy commissioner with specific responsibility for food safety. They said the agency has no clear line of command when it comes to food safety issues.
“The lack of a single, full-time, fully empowered, expert leader affects all aspects of the FDA’s food program,” Sarah Gallo of the Consumer Brands Association testified. “Inefficient decision making has slowed reviews, hindering progress and even rendering innovation obsolete.”