In the wake of a Politico investigation that raised many issues with the food side of the FDA, especially with the long time it takes for action, the Consumer Brands Assn. and 27 other organizations signed a letter April 25 asking new FDA Commissioner Robert Califf to revamp the agency and to consider a single deputy commissioner overseeing all things relating to food.
"We call on you to unify the FDA food program under a deputy commissioner for foods, with accountability to the commissioner and direct line authority over CFSAN [Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition], CVM [Center for Veterinary Medicine], and the food-related components and operations of ORA [Office of Regulatory Affairs]," the letter stated. "This should be done urgently, and the person appointed should have relevant and appropriate food credentials."
The Politico investigation, which quoted past FDA officials, even former commissioners, criticized the agency's slow pace and pointed to the split of food responsibilities -- Frank Yiannas as deputy commissioner for food policy and response and Susan Mayne as the director of CFSAN -- as part of the problem.
Certainly, two other parts are the facts that the FDA has two huge areas of responsibility, and drugs have become a priority; and the entire agency is not a cabinet-level department but a subset of the Dept. of Health and Human Services.
The Politico report is huge and deep but it's worth a read. It's difficult to summarize the thousands of words, but one early line does a pretty good job: "Congress has ramped up FDA funding over the past decade, but deadly outbreaks keep happening and it often takes the agency too long to respond." Our Pan Demetrakakes took a shot at summarizing it earlier this month.
"In addition to bringing focused leadership and accountability to the FDA's food program internally, a unified structure and a fulltime senior leader will strengthen the program's standing externally and its ability to be in effective dialogue with its many stakeholders," said the letter from the 28 organizations.
The Politico investigation also questioned how the funding for food safety is being spent; funding has grown over the years while inspections and other obvious expenses have dropped. "A transparent accounting of FDA expenditures since that time, within the food arena, would help us to assist the agency bolster its funding," according to the letter.
"Perhaps most significant is the effect of these issues on the ongoing implementation of FSMA [2010 Food Safety Modernization Act] and execution of the New Era of Smarter Food Safety blueprint," said the letter.
It concluded, "We request an opportunity to meet with you and discuss how we can work together to strengthen FDA's food safety and nutrition program and equip it for success in the decades ahead." Signatories included Consumer Brands Association, Center for Food Safety, Center for Science in the Public Interest, American Bakers Association, American Frozen Food Institute, Corn Refiners Association, FMI (formerly the Food Marketing Institute) and Association of Food and Drug Officials.