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Coalition of groups outline expectations for FDA’s announcement on foods program reform

Diverse coalition of food policy stakeholders are calling on the FDA to outline meaningful reforms to the Foods Program in response to the Reagan-Udall report

WASHINGTON, D.C. – A diverse coalition of food policy stakeholders representing consumers, industry, and state and local regulators released a list of expectations we believe need to be included in FDA’s forthcoming announcement on Tuesday, January 31 if the Agency is serious about making meaningful reforms to the Foods Program. We appreciate that the Commissioner committed to providing a response in January to the recommendations from an expert panel convened by the Reagan-Udall Foundation.

We believe the Expert Panel report the Foundation accurately captured the problems involving the structure, leadership, culture, transparency, and accountability within the FDA Foods Program. This dysfunction has prevented the agency from adequately protecting consumers and enabling industry to innovate. We also support the Expert Panel’s conclusion that having a single leader who is empowered and accountable for the success of the Foods Program is central to its success.

Based on the findings and recommendations outlined in the Reagan-Udall Foundation, we are hopeful that FDA’s announcement will include bold reforms that incorporate the following elements:

  • Full Unification of Human and Animal Foods Program. It is evident that establishing an empowered deputy commissioner position with line authority over all components of a unified Human and Animal Foods Program is foundational to a successful organizational and leadership structure. It represents the simplest, most expedient way to achieve needed structural and leadership change. This position should have line authority over the Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition (CFSAN), Center for Veterinary Medicine (CVM), and the food-related components of the Office of Regulatory Affairs (ORA). Candidates for the empowered deputy commissioner role should possess the attributes recommended in the report, including: expertise and knowledge in food safety and/or nutrition; demonstrated strong leadership, management, and communications skills; and the ability to lead and make timely decisions in a complex regulatory environment.
  • A More Prominent Foods Program. The empowered deputy commissioner should be viewed internally and externally as the de facto leader of the Foods Program with the standing equal with the medical products programs. The position should have the authority to represent the FDA on foods before Congress, within the executive branch, as well as with stakeholders and foreign partners.
  • Culture Change and Modernization. The current fragmented structure has had a negative effect on organizational culture, resulting in the FDA Foods Program having second-class status within the agency. Therefore, FDA’s announcement should include actions that allows an empowered deputy commissioner to modernize the program so that it facilitates a more enabling and effective culture committed to transparency, timeliness, and meaningful stakeholder engagement as part of the decision-making process.

The FDA’s Foods Program should be viewed as a distinctive part of the agency and deserving of a structure and leadership model that is appropriately customized to fit its mission. We are thankful that Commissioner Califf commissioned the Reagan-Udall review, and has engaged with stakeholders as he considers how to best setup the Foods Program for long-term success. We look forward to his pending announcement and remain committed to working with the FDA as changes are implemented.

Michael McCauley, michael.mccauley@consumer.org, 415-902-9537