Chief Lauds Food Safety Bill as the ‘Right Direction’
of Article: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/04/health/policy/04fda.html?ref=global-home
By GARDINER HARRIS
Published: June 3, 2009
WASHINGTON — Margaret
A. Hamburg, the new commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, plunged on
Wednesday into the contentious debate over how to fix the nation’s food
In her first
appearance before Congress as commissioner, Dr. Hamburg told the House
Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health that a safety overhaul sponsored
by several leading Democrats was “a major step in the right direction,” but
that her agency would need more money to carry it out.
The hearing demonstrated that a bipartisan consensus that
had been apparent in nearly two dozen previous hearings had since been
lost. Again and again, Republicans complained about specific aspects of a
measure the committee is expected to vote on as soon as next week.
That legislation, still in draft, blends provisions from
bills offered by several top Democrats and includes requirements that all
food manufacturers write and carry out safety plans, pay an annual
registration fee of $1,000 to the F.D.A. and keep track of the distribution
of all food products.
The agency would be required to inspect every food facility
in the country at least once every four years, with high-risk ones being
inspected every 18 months.
Despite her support for the legislation, Dr. Hamburg said
the registration fees “will, sadly, not be enough to implement those
“They are wonderful goals,” Dr. Hamburg told reporters after
the hearing, “but we have to be realistic about what resources are needed.”
In March, Representative Joe L. Barton of Texas, the senior
Republican on the full committee, said that on the subject of food safety
“there is no daylight” between himself and Representative Henry
A. Waxman, Democrat of California and chairman of the committee.
But on Wednesday, Mr. Barton said that the registration fees
were too high and that a provision requiring that foods be labeled with
their country of origin was burdensome. He complained about provisions that
would expand the food agency’s powers, giving it the right to force
manufacturers to recall their products and to subpoena manufacturing
Mr. Waxman defended the fees as necessary to support functions
that would save the food industry from expensive recalls. “The bill simply
asks industry to chip in its fair share,” he said.
Pamela G. Bailey, president of the Grocery Manufacturers
Association, told the committee that the industry was concerned about the
size of the proposed fees and their possible effect on the credibility of
“Our industry is ultimately responsible for the safety of
its products,” Ms. Bailey said in a written statement, “but securing the
safety of the food supply is a government function which should be largely
financed with government resources.”
Dr. Hamburg also spoke on two other disputed issues. She
told the panel that the drug agency had begun a new safety review of bisphenol-A,
or BPA, a chemical used to harden some plastics. Some studies have
suggested that the chemical may accelerate puberty, but the agency concluded during
the Bush administration that it was safe at levels found in the American
The agency’s own science advisory panel rejected that
conclusion in October. Dr. Hamburg said the agency’s new review should be
completed by the end of summer.
Before the hearing, advocates passed out fliers nearby,
protesting the routine use of antibiotics in livestock, which has led to
the proliferation of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Dr. Hamburg said she
shared those concerns.
“It’s a huge concern of mine in terms of the growing problem
of antibiotic resistance in this country and around the world,” she
Dr. Hamburg sat quietly for the first 90 minutes of the
hearing as legislators made opening statements. Asked afterward what she
learned in her first appearance before Congress as commissioner, she
answered, “That I have a lot to learn.”