Food safety revamp on way, Obama says

Source of Article:

By Bob Keefe

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Washington —- President Barack Obama has ordered the country’s food-safety regulatory agencies to revamp how they work together and to find ways to detect food contamination more quickly after the nationwide salmonella outbreak that had its roots in Georgia.

“I’ve directed both the Department of Agriculture and Health and Human Services to work to come up with a plan, so that a lot of these different agencies that have some jurisdiction over food safety are integrated in a much more effective way, and [so] things aren’t falling through the cracks,” Obama said in an interview Wednesday at the White House with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and other newspapers.

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Obama also hinted that he’ll soon announce major changes at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration that may improve food safety regulations and give the FDA more power to regulate the tobacco industry.

Bills making their way through Congress would give the government more regulatory power over tobacco —- either through the FDA or a new federal agency.

But Obama indicated forthcoming changes also are aimed at preventing another salmonella outbreak like the one traced to Peanut Corp. of America’s Blakely plant in that has sickened more than 660 nationwide and may have led to nine deaths.

“We … need to be able to trace sources of food contamination much more quickly than we’re doing right now,” Obama said. “Technology can be helpful, but the key is actually reorganizing the agencies that are responsible so they’re working more in concert than they are right now.”

On Wednesday, The New York Times quoted people briefed on the decision as saying Obama intends to nominate Dr. Margaret Hamburg, a former New York City health commissioner, to lead the FDA, with Dr. Joshua Sharfstein, health commissioner of Baltimore, as her chief deputy.

Among other topics Obama addressed:

> The South and Southerners: Asked why his Cabinet and senior staff at last count includes only two Southerners —- White House spokesman Robert Gibbs, an Alabama native, and EPA administrator Lisa Jackson, originally from New Orleans —- Obama acknowledged he didn’t keep geography in mind when he was looking for his top advisers.

“I’ve got to admit that we have thought a lot about finding the very best people for the jobs, and haven’t been thinking with great intensity about regionalism, because partly —- except for food and sports teams and the weather —- we’re one country,” he said. “And I think people are so mobile these days that I tend to think of ourselves as all just Americans.”

> The economy: Obama said he reads a sampling of letters the White House gets each day from people who are losing their houses and jobs and are generally suffering through the recession.

“Some of them are just heartbreaking,” he said. “Everything we’re doing is focused on not only pulling this economy out of what is the worst recession since the Great Depression, but also looking at ways we can set a foundation and long-term growth.”

Investing in health care, energy and education, he said, would help build a better and stronger economy.

“The days of growing the economy through an overheated housing market or through people running up exorbitant credit card bills is over,” Obama said. “We’ve got to put our growth model on a different footing,”

> Mexican border violence and immigration issues: Obama said U.S. and Mexican officials are working on a plan to address increasing drug-related violence on the border.

“Our expectation is to have a comprehensive policy in place in the next few months … that will involve supporting [Mexico President Felipe] Calderon and his efforts in partnership.”

On immigration, Obama said the meltdown of the U.S. economy and job opportunities “has slowed the flow” of illegal immigrants.

“But it remains a serious concern,” he said.



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