WASHINGTON, D.C. — Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Margaret Hamburg stressed the common ground the agency shares with the produce industry in restoring consumer confidence during her Sept. 11 address to the United Fresh Produce Association’s Washington Public Policy Conference.

Commissioner vows increased FDA oversight

Hamburg promised to elevate the role of nutrition at FDA, adding that, “Fresh produce obviously must be front and center as we shape a healthier vision for America.”

She said the agency would soon appoint a deputy commissioner for food and that the new position will ensure food safety and other food issues receive appropriate consideration.

She called on the produce industry to work with FDA to improve food safety systems and said the agency welcomed the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s consideration of a national leafy greens marketing agreement.

The Obama administration is committed to an “integrated” food safety system that will link the efforts of federal, state and local officials, Hamburg said.

She said the FDA was pleased the House food safety bill included a fee-based revenue stream.“We need to keep working with the administration and Congress to ensure adequate budgets for food safety,” she said.

House passage of food safety legislation was an important first step at modernization, and Hamburg said she expects the Senate will take up similar legislation.

In general, Hamburg said FDA’s intent is to keep unsafe foods from reaching the market and part of that new push will be accomplished by expanding outreach.

An example of that is FDA’s newly published commodity-specific guidance for melons, tomatoes and leafy greens.  “We’re committed to building on our guidance, and the next step will be to enforce mandatory food safety standards through the rule making process,” she said.

The next major step, she said, will be enforceable food safety rules. Formal rule making proposals for that are expected by next September.

She said the regulation will be based on the best available science and will be targeted at specific commodities.

New congressional authority also will be required, Hamburg said.

“We need authorities to ensure proper implementation of modern preventive controls in all food manufacturing facilities,” she said. “We need to ensure that what are now food industry best practices become now increasingly common practices.”

Hamburg said the agency also needs a “modern inspection mandate” to ensure FDA inspects food facilities more frequently and conducts risk-based inspections aimed at prevention, including better tools to foster compliance, food safety records, traceback and recall authority.

Hamburg said FDA wants authority to hold importers accountable for managing their supply chains and preventing food safety problems from entering the U.S. She supports more overseas inspections, working more closely with foreign governments and harmonization of food safety standards.

The FDA would like to work with accredited third-party certification systems to supplement oversight of border inspections, she said.

Hamburg said President Obama requested the largest ever budget increase for FDA in fiscal 2010, seeking an additional $250 million more and almost 300 new employees.  Hamburg said the new government Web site www.foodsafety.gov is an important new resource for the public.

Hamburg said FDA will be sensitive to the concerns of smaller growers and organic producers as it sets new regulations.

“Everyone has a duty to make their food safe, but there is more than one pathway for that,” she said.

Because of that, Hamburg said the FDA’s food safety rules be based on an adaptable set of preventive controls. “It will not be one size fits all. They will be scaled for risk, and they will reflect the needs and concerns of the community,” she said.