Dr. Margaret Ann Hamburg, President Barack Obama's pick to serve as commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, encountered no opposition during her Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee hearing on Thursday, May 7. The full Senate is expected to vote on her nomination before Memorial Day.
If confirmed, her most immediate task, according to an Associated Press report, is to oversee the development of a swine flu vaccine. But she said food safety will be her major ongoing project.
During the hearing, Dr. Hamburg said that she wants to shift the agency from being reactive to being proactive in preventing outbreaks. This, she said, would require all food companies to follow written safety plans overseen by federal and state inspectors. Dr. Hamburg also emphasized the need to strengthen traceability and import safety.
Restoring public confidence in the FDA by putting science first and running and open and accountable operation is also at the top of her agenda.
Dr. Hamburg called for sustained government effort, more money and stronger laws to improve food safety. President Obama’s budget requests a $260 million increase for the FDA’s food safety program with some of the funding tagged to rebuild the ranks of inspectors.
"The agency is facing new and daunting challenges," she told senators. "These include the globalization of food and drug production, the emergence of new and complex medical technologies, and the risk of adulteration or deliberate terror attacks on our food and drug supplies."
Dr. Hamburg, 53, served under the Clinton administration as an assistant health secretary and helped lay the groundwork for the government’s bioterrorism and flu pandemic preparations.
Her background includes:
- Senior scientist at the Nuclear Threat Initiative where she also served as vice president of biological programs beginning in 2001.
- Assistant secretary for planning and evaluation, Health and Human Services Department, 1997-2001.
- Commissioner of health, New York City, 1991-97.
- Assistant director, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases of the National Institutes of Health, 1989-90.
- Served in the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, 1986-88.