In May 2007, the FDA responded to an increasingly vocal set of critics in Congress by appointing Dr. David Acheson at FDA to "Assistant Commissioner for Food Safety" – with the media quickly dubbing him as the new "food safety czar." During that time the FDA was quite beleaguered and there had been a number of food safety issues that had plagued the agency and the public. The Congress was skeptical and particular members such as Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro took occasion to make the food safety czar into a punching bag. At the time of his appointment, Dr. Acheson was quoted as saying that the primary strategy to guide future food protection efforts would be to move to a model that was preventive over one that was reactive in nature.
Fast forward to July 8, 2009. Two years later. The FDA announces the appointment of Mike Taylor, a former FDA employee and a nationally recognized food safety expert, is appointed as a senior adviser to the commissioner on food safety. Said Dr. Hamburg of the new appointment – "His expertise and leadership on food safety issues will help the agency to develop and implement the prevention based strategy we need to ensure the safety of the food we eat." Already bloggers, among others, have dubbed him the new Food Czar. We'll see if folks in Congress start beating this one up.
Sound familiar? And, uh, how many Czars does it take? Everyone wants prevention-based. Everyone is a Czar. When do we turn the corner?
Today's WaPo editorializes under the title of "Food Fright" that what we need is strong, new legislation that will encourage a broader and stronger food safety system. There is not shortage in Congress – there are about six new food safety bills that will address food safety on a widespread basis covering FDA and USDA that could introduce new standards of traceability and introduce some sweeping authority over organizing better oversight over industry, which could include new food fees to pay for greater enforcement (I always thought there would be some kind of FPUFA – Food Production User Fee Act).
In addition to the proposed legislation, the FDA has been moving on several fronts with respect to food safety – most recently this week, taking regulatory action against a cheese manufacturer and issuing new regulations around eggs and salmonella. However, it will be a combined effort of sweeping authority to actually change the status quo and new regulatory action and enforcement to allow the FDA to catch up to the demands on food safety that have made themselves present by globalization and other factors. So in the end, the proof will be in the pudding – the pudding that was recalled as unsafe before anyone got sick and died from tainted ingredients. Otherwise, two years from now, we may pick up the paper to read about a new Czar at FDA who is going to move the system to one of prevention. And we might yawn.