Saturday, March 14, 2009

"Reversing a Troubling Trend in Food Safety"

Food safety was the topic of today's Presidential message. In it, President Obama declared -
We are a nation built on the strength of individual initiative. But there are certain things that we can't do on our own. There are certain things that only a government can do. And one of those things is ensuring that the foods we eat, and the medicines we take, are safe and don't cause us harm.
The President announced the appointments of Dr. Margaret Hamburg as Commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, and Dr. Joshua Sharfstein as the Principal Deputy Commissioner. In addition, he announced the creation of a new Food Safety Working chaired by the Secretaries of Health and Human Services and the Department of Agriculture. This group will work with other agencies and senior officials "to advise the President on improving coordination throughout the government, examining and upgrading food safety laws, and enforcing laws that will keep the American people safe."

The President's recognition of food safety as "one of the most fundamental responsibilities government has" is refreshing and inspiring. We can do much better, and to recognize that government has to take the lead is critical. It is my hope, however, that government leadership is not limited to increased regulation and inspection. As with any problem, it is most efficient and most effective to look to the source. What aspects of our food and agricultural policies have helped to create the problems that we now need to regulate to correct? What inherent weaknesses are there in our food system? It will be critical that the President has people appointed to the Food Safety Working Group that can ask these difficult questions and guide the FDA, the USDA, and the President toward sustainable solutions.


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