FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
13 July 2022
Contact: Kevin McGuire, 202-538-2386 (mobile)
Washington D.C. – Today, Congresswomen Nanette Diaz Barragán (CA-44) and Rosa L. DeLauro (CT-03) led their colleagues in the U.S. House of Representatives in a bipartisan letter to Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Commissioner Robert Califf urging him to unify the FDA food program and quickly appoint and empower a Deputy Commissioner of Foods. These actions would improve the agency’s ability to respond swiftly to current and future food safety events and more effectively communicate with the public.
In May, Congresswomen Barragán and DeLauro were among the first lawmakers to sound the alarm that a lack of leadership over the FDA food program was slowing the FDA’s response to the shortage of infant formula. The FDA has not had a single individual overseeing the FDA food program since 2018. This lack of leadership has exacerbated longstanding issues around coordinated responses, unified leadership, and management problems within the FDA’s food program, leading to slow responses to foodborne illness outbreaks.
“We write to express our strong concern over the fragmented organizational structure and lack of coordination across the food safety programs at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA),” the members wrote. “To better unify the FDA food program, we urge you to appoint a Deputy Commissioner for Foods— and empower them with authority over the Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition (CFSAN), Center for Veterinary Medicine (CVM), and the Office of Regulatory Affairs (ORA) food component.”
The members continued, “This exact role at the FDA was established in 2010 to address the agency’s fragmented organizational structure around food safety but has been left vacant since 2018. This leaves the FDA without a senior leader to manage the response to food safety events like the current infant formula shortage and the hepatitis A outbreak. Filling this position with an individual who has a strong and relevant background in food safety is essential to an improved FDA food program.”
“The infant formula crisis has highlighted the need for the FDA to prioritize its critical food mission to protect, promote, and advance public health. No baby should go without formula because of a lack of leadership at the agency responsible for keeping Americans safe from foodborne illnesses,” said Congresswoman Barragán. “To regain public confidence, the FDA must prioritize its food programs by appointing an expert food safety leader with direct authority over all components of the FDA food program.”
“Food safety is currently a second-class citizen at the FDA,” said Chair DeLauro. “Food safety needs to be reprioritized at the agency. The agency could do this today by appointing a Deputy Commissioner, with actual expertise in food safety, to oversee the FDA’s food program. We need to ensure consumers feel confident that the product they buy for their families and babies is safe – period.”
“The lack of a single, full-time, fully empowered, and expert leader affects all aspects of the FDA’s food program,” said Steven Mandernach, Executive Director of the Association of Food and Drug Officials (AFDO). “At risk is the ongoing implementation of FSMA and the full implementation of the New Era of Smarter Food Safety blueprint. It is not just naming someone to the revived post but the person appointed should have relevant and appropriate food credentials. It’s critical to all major food program units working together seamlessly with their state regulatory partners and with a common strategic direction, clear priorities, sound resource management, and external and internal accountability.”
“Consumer Reports applauds Congresswoman Barragan and Congresswoman DeLauro for this important letter to bring focused leadership and better accountability for the FDA food program,” said Brian Ronholm, director of food policy for Consumer Reports. “Public confidence in FDA’s ability to protect the food supply has eroded and the appointment of an empowered deputy commissioner for food called for in the letter would represent a critical step toward restoring that confidence and enhancing agency governance and performance on food safety.”
“Every year, thousands of Americans die from foodborne illness, thousands more are hospitalized, and millions get sick. Many of these illnesses are preventable, but only if we decide to make food safety a priority,” said Scott Faber, Senior Vice President of Government Affairs for the Environmental Working Group. “Can Americans once again claim to have the “safest food supply” in the world? Not if the FDA’s fragmented leadership fails to inspect food manufacturers and fails to quickly respond to outbreaks, and lets the chemical companies decide whether the chemicals in our food are safe.”
A copy of the letter is below.
Nanette Diaz Barragán is proud to represent California’s 44th Congressional District, which includes the communities of Carson, Compton, Florence-Firestone, Lynwood, North Long Beach, Rancho Dominguez, San Pedro, South Gate, Walnut Park, Watts, Willowbrook and Wilmington. She serves as chairwoman of the House Homeland Security Committee’s Subcommittee on Border Security, and on the House Energy and Commerce Health, Energy, and Environment & Climate Change Subcommittees