(Sept. 26) Filling a post that has been vacant for almost 20 months, the top health policy adviser for the Bush administration will be nominated to be commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, according to wire reports.

Administration sources said Texan Mark McClellan will direct the government agency that regulates almost a quarter of the U.S. economy. However, the new nominee won’t be running the department until Congress confirms him, leaving near-term decisions on FDA policy on cantaloupe imports from Mexico likely to be handled by acting head Les Crawford, industry sources said.

McClellan has a medical degree from Harvard University and has been a member of the National Cancer Policy Board of the National Academy of Sciences. He has worked on Medicare policy for the Bush administration. He has been praised by the Biotechnology Industry Association and the Grocery Manufacturers of America.

Donna Garren, vice president of scientific and technical affairs for the Alexandria, Va.-based United Fresh Fruit & Vegetable Association, said the announcement has been “a long time coming.”

However, she praised acting FDA commission Les Crawford, who will be deputy commissioner under McClellan. She said Crawford would likely have a hand in a decision in late September on how the FDA will handle procedures for importing Mexican cantaloupe.

The FDA is considering a range of options — including automatic detention of imports on a regional or national basis — regarding Mexican cantaloupe shipments to the U.S., which have been implicated in food safety scares during the past three years.
Lee Frankel, president of the Fresh Produce Association of the Americas, said the delay in the FDA policy on cantaloupe imports may have resulted in economic losses of up to half the crop.