On May 1, 2007, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced the creation of a new agency position that will focus on food safety and food defense.1 David Acheson, MD, formerly chief medical officer and director of the Office of Food Defense, Communication and Emergency Response of FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition (CFSAN), has assumed the new
position of “Assistant Commissioner for Food Protection.”
The creation of the new position appears to be a response to recent concerns about the quality and safety of ingredients in human and animal foods, as precipitated by the recent discovery of the intentional adulteration of wheat gluten and rice protein by Chinese manufacturers with the compound melamine (used to make plastics), as well as recent outbreaks of bacterial contamination in bagged spinach, lettuce in products sold by the food chain Taco Bell, and Peter Pan (ConAgra Foods, Inc., St. Paul, MN) peanut butter.2
The discovery of melamine in pet foods has been linked to the deaths of dogs and cats and led to a massive product recall of more than 150 brands of pet food. By late April, the FDA had received over 17,000 consumer complaints concerning pet food contamination, including reports of over 4,000 pet deaths.3 According to news reports, government officials believe the melamine was added to artificially boost the appearance of the gluten’s and resulting products’ protein content, according to some laboratory assays, and thus sell for a higher price.4,5,6 Melamine was also used in feed for hogs and more than 3 million chickens. FDA officials did not issue a recall for the pork or chicken since most of the product had already been processed and sold and because the potential for negative effects on humans through consumption was considered minimal.4,5 The FDA issued an import alert on April 27, 2007, for all vegetable protein products from China for animal or human food use, which allows districts to detain these products without physical examination.3
“The protection of America’s food supply and therefore the safety of Americans eating food of domestic or international origin is of utmost importance to me as a physician and to the mission of this agency,” said FDA Commissioner Andrew C. von Eschenbach, MD, in an FDA press release.1 “We’ve seen a rapid transformation of the food safety system due to advances in production technology, rapid methods of distribution, and the globalization of food sources. Dr. Acheson’s wealth of experience and knowledge of the science behind food protection will help the agency keep pace with this transformation in order to ensure that the safety and nutritional value of our food supply is second to none.”
In his new position at the FDA, Dr. Acheson will coordinate food safety measures and assignments with individual FDA product centers and the Office of Regulatory Affairs, and he will serve as the commissioner’s direct liaison to various US departments and agencies on food safety and food defense related inter-agency initiatives. One of his first projects will be the development of an agency-wide strategy for food safety and defense, which will take into account historical changes related to global food safety and address current challenges, needs, and opportunities for food safety and defense.
Some members of Congress have criticized the FDA’s new food safety office, dubbing the position “food safety czar” and arguing that this action by the FDA is insufficient in light of current threats to public health.2,4 Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) has argued that the FDA’s food safety system is “broken down” and needs more dramatic changes. Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) and Sen. Durbin introduced a bill (The Safe Food Act, S. 654 and H.R. 1148) to strengthen food safety measures on May 1, 2007.7 The Senate unanimously approved the legislation on May 2, 2007, as an amendment to a broad bill regarding the FDA (The FDA Reauthorization Bill, S. 1082).8 The proposed legislation would allow the FDA to create an early-warning system for problems with human or pet food and broaden the agency’s power over food labeling, importation, and record-keeping. Sen. Durbin has also argued that there is a need for greater FDA resources, including additional funding and inspectors. The FDA currently has enough inspectors to examine just 1% of imported foods.2
What is becoming increasingly clear is that all types of imported food ingredients will undergo increased scrutiny at US ports, and, in some cases, perhaps even at their points of manufacture and processing in foreign countries. This will inevitably lead to more inspections of ingredients used in dietary supplements (e.g., vitamins, amino acids, fine chemicals like inositol, niacin, CoenzymeQ10, etc.), as well as botanical raw materials and extracts, causing expected increased delays in the importation process and attendant higher prices.
- FDA commissioner announces new food protection position [press release]. Rockville, MD: Food and Drug Administration; May 1, 2007.
- Rockoff JD. ‘Food safety czar’ named. Baltimore Sun. May 2, 2007.
- US Food and Drug Administration. Detention without physical examination of all vegetable protein products from China for animal or human food use due to the presence of melamine and/or melamine analogs. Import Alert #99-29. April 27, 2007.
- Hedges SJ. FDA creates senior food protection post. Chicago Tribune. May 2, 2007.
- Chinese admit adding melamine to animal feed ingredients. Food e-news. May 2, 2007;335. Available at: http://www.rssl.com/OurServices/FoodENews/NewsLetter.aspx?ENewsletterID=206#2. Accessed May 8, 2007.
- Swaminathan N. Were our pets deliberately poisoned? Scientific American.com. April 25, 2007. Available at: http://www.sciam.com/article. cfm?SID=mail&articleID=2B10D1F6-E7F2-99DF-34DAAAC1622FE 3CE&chanID=sa003. Accessed May 8, 2007.
- Durbin, DeLauro introduce new food safety bill in wake of widening recalls [press release]. Washington DC: Senator Durbin’s Multimedia Center. May 1, 2007. Available at: http://durbin.senate.gov/record. cfm?id=273386. Accessed May 8, 2007.
- Durbin food safety amendment approved by Senate [press release]. Washington DC: Senator Durbin’s Multimedia Center. May 2, 2007. Available at: http://durbin.senate.gov/record.cfm?id=273506. Accessed May 9, 2007.