PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA has nominated former New York City Health Commissioner Margaret (Peggy) A. Hamburg as head of FDA and Baltimore Health Commissioner Joshua M. Sharfstein as her deputy. In his weekly address to the nation on March 14, Obama also announced his plans to create a Food Safety Working Group to modernize and enforce food safety laws and coordinate measures across the federal government.
"There are certain things only a government can do. And one of those things is ensuring that the foods we eat and the medicines we take are safe and don't cause us harm," Obama said during his address. The President renewed his pledge to include $1 billion in the 2010 federal budget to increase the number of food inspections and FDA staff needed to protect the food supply.
Hamburg has a reputation of integrity and a record of making Americans more secure, Obama noted. While serving as health commissioner of New York City, she "brought a new life to a demoralized agency, leading an internationally recognized initiative that cut the tuberculosis rate by nearly half and overseeing food safety in our nation's largest city," he said. Hamburg is currently a senior scientist with expertise in biodefense with the nonprofit group Nuclear Threat Initiative.
Consumer advocacy groups, food safety experts, and other stakeholders welcome the increased attention on food safety as well as the new FDA leaders. As a team, they are expected to refocus the beleaguered FDA and make public health a priority.
Hamburg has "a substantial set of skills, experience, and commitment to public health that makes her ideal," says William K. Hubbard, former senior associate commissioner of FDA and a critic of the agency since he retired in 2005. And Sharfstein "brings substantial experience in public health," as well as Capitol Hill experience, he says.
Lawmakers also support Obama's picks. "This is a team that has strong public health credentials and demonstrated management abilities. These appointments give me great hope for the future of the FDA," House Energy & Commerce Committee Chairman Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.) said in a statement.