New FDA job to focus on food safety strategy

May 1, 2007 (CIDRAP News) – The head of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) today announced the creation of a new assistant commissioner position to provide guidance on food safety and defense strategies.

David Acheson, MD, will be assigned to the new job, said FDA Commissioner Andrew C. von Eschenbach. Acheson is chief medical officer and director of the Office of Food Defense, Communication and Emergency Response at the FDA's Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition (CFSAN).

In 2006, Acheson often served as a spokesman for the FDA during the investigation of a widespread Escherichia coli O157:H7 outbreak related to bagged fresh spinach and similar outbreaks linked to lettuce served by taco restaurant chains.

Von Eschenbach said Acheson will advise him on "strategic and substantive food safety and food defense matters," an FDA news release states. One of Acheson's first jobs will be to develop an "agency-wide, visionary strategy for food safety and defense."

"The strategy will identify and characterize changes in the global food safety and defense system, and identify current and future challenges and opportunities," the FDA said. "It will also name potential barriers, gaps, and most critical needs in a food safety and defense system. The strategy will serve as the framework in helping the agency prioritize and address food safety and defense challenges."

Von Eschenbach commented that Acheson's experience and scientific expertise will help the FDA keep pace with the "rapid transformation of the food safety system due to advances in production technology, rapid methods of distribution, and the globalization of food sources."

In his new job, Acheson will work with the FDA product centers and its Office of Regulatory Affairs to coordinate the agency's food safety and defense assignments and commitments, officials said.

Acheson will assume his new position immediately. He will report to Dr. Murray Lumpkin, deputy commissioner for international and special programs, who reports to von Eschenbach, according to FDA officials.

At CFSAN, Acheson has had the lead role in emergency response and in communication with industry, states, and consumers.

Faye Feldstein, who has been Acheson's deputy director at CFSAN, will now serve as acting director of the CFSAN Office of Food Defense, according to an FDA spokesman.

Craig Hedberg, a foodborne disease expert at the University of Minnesota School of Public Health in Minneapolis, said the FDA action suggests that the agency is focusing more attention on food protection.

"It seems to be elevating the importance of food protection (both food safety and food defense) within the FDA," he told CIDRAP News by e-mail. "By pulling this position out of CFSAN and putting it up at an assistant commissioner level, it establishes it as a priority concern of the commissioner." The move also establishes Acheson as "a key national leader for food protection," he added.

Hedberg, who is an associate professor of environmental and occupational health, also commented, "I think this is certainly a response to the recent [foodborne disease] outbreaks and the congressional attention they are getting. I think Dr. Acheson has done a good job in public appearances, and if talk continues to develop about the need for a single food safety agency, this move could lead to an administration attempt to coordinate food safety through FDA." (The FDA shares food safety responsibilities with the US Department of Agriculture; the USDA generally regulates meat and poultry, and the FDA oversees other foods.)

In a comment he qualified as highly speculative, Hedberg added, "Dr. Acheson is certainly developing the credentials of someone who might be chosen to lead such an agency."

See also:

May 1 FDA news release
http://www.fda.gov/bbs/topics/NEWS/2007/NEW01622.html

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