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Obama names FDA chief, announces new food safety panel

President Barack Obama today tapped former New York City Public Health Commissioner Margaret Hamburg, 54, to head the embattled U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and announced creation of a new panel to examine and update food safety laws in the wake of an outbreak of salmonella that sickened hundreds. 

Obama announced the moves during his weekly radio address in which he blamed a lack of food inspections and antiquated laws and regs for creating a "demoralized" FDA as well as conditions ripe for a string of food-borne infections over the past few years, including the recent salmonella outbreak linked to peanut butter and paste churned out at a contaminated Georgia plant.

 "This is a hazard to public health," he said in his address. "It is unacceptable."

Obama today also named Baltimore Health Commissioner Joshua Sharfstein, 39, to be Hamburg's top deputy at the FDA. Both picks, who were expected to be nominated, are physicians and are well-regarded by food safety and nutrition groups.

 Obama said he would also take steps to prevent diseased or "downer" cows from being slaughtered and entering the food supply.

 "Food safety is something I take seriously, not just as your president, but as a parent," he said. "No parent should have to worry that their child is going to get sick from their lunch."

Image of Margaret Hamburg/National Library of Medicine

 

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