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The Washington Post reports that Robert Califf, commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), told a Senate Appropriations Committee hearing yesterday that he has initiated a review of the agency's food safety program designed "to recommend changes in light of the expanding number of industries producing food, as well as the role of climate change and the war in Ukraine. Califf … spoke of an increasingly complicated food system that requires a new approach."

The move comes just four months after a nationwide shortage of baby formula that experts say highlighted shortcomings in the FDA's approach to food safety.

“We have to look at the whole picture: It’s the structure, it’s the function, it’s the leadership. We are doing a top-to-bottom evaluation. It’s hard to pick out one or two things, it’s a multidimensional industry,” Califf said. “There’s consensus that whatever was done in the past was not successful.”

The external review will be conducted by the Reagan-Udall Foundation, and is expected to take two months.

Some context from the Post story:

"Critics have long complained that the FDA prioritizes drugs and medicine over food safety, despite a steady stream of high-profile outbreaks of food-borne illnesses in recent years, including romaine lettuce tainted with e-coli and salmonella in peanut butter. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 128,000 people in the United States are hospitalized with foodborne illnesses each year."

The Post also writes that "at the hearing, Wednesday, Sarah Gallo, the vice president for product policy at the Consumer Brands Association, a grocery store industry group, urged the FDA immediately to unify its food programs under a single head. Her recommendation echoed that of consumer groups, which for months have been calling for a single 'food czar' within the agency. This appointee would have direct line authority over the Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, the Center for Veterinary Medicine, and the food-related components and operations of the Office of Regulatory Affairs."

KC's View:

Almost as long as I've been doing MNB, there have been calls for the creation of one agency with responsibility for the whole food safety continuum. Greater regulation doesn’t have to mean greater complexity. In this case, it should mean precisely the opposite.  Tim Hammonds, the former CEO of the Food Marketing Institute (FMI), was calling for that in the last century.

I agree that there needs to be an overhaul.  I think there needs to be streamlined bureaucracy and greater regulation and oversight.  But I'm dubious that anything substantive is going to happen.