Lawmaker Says FDA Needs ‘Real’ Changes

WASHINGTON (AP) -- A key lawmaker pressed FDA officials Thursday for specific plans to improve food safety, saying the agency's proposals to date aren't enough.

"A lot sounds to me like buzzwords from a past administration," Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., told the Food and Drug Administration's new acting commissioner at a hearing.

Acting Commissioner Dr. Joshua Sharfstein presented a 2010 budget proposal calling for a nearly 20 percent funding increase and new industry user fees to pay for more food safety inspections. But it was short on specifics.

"A real change, a real change from the past would be a plan on food safety that identified the foods at greatest risk," said DeLauro, who chairs the House spending panel that oversees the FDA budget. She also called for new performance standards, sampling to detect contamination and requirements for industry to report when problems were found.

Sharfstein said he had similar goals. President Barack Obama has announced a Food Safety Working Group that's now meeting, and Sharfstein told reporters that its proposals, expected in the next several months, would answer many of DeLauro's demands.

Sharfstein promised lawmakers that he and Dr. Margaret Hamburg, who was confirmed as FDA commissioner by the Senate on Monday and is expected to be sworn in next week, would work to restore credibility and morale at FDA.

A series of food and drug safety lapses has hurt the agency's image, including the recent outbreak of salmonella in peanut products.

"The credibility of FDA is absolutely critical," Sharfstein agreed at one point. Once Hamburg is sworn in Sharfstein will become the agency's No. 2 official.

FDA wants nearly $95 million in user fees from food producers that would help pay the cost of adding 678 new FDA staff members, including 220 food safety inspectors. A new $46 million fee for generic drug manufacturers would help expand the availability of generics.

FDA has proposed such fees in the past and Congress has not gone along with it, but Sharfstein said the Obama administration was committed to getting the fees enacted.

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