The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has been under scrutiny from consumers, the food industry, and non-governmental organizations following a recent Politico exposé that revealed problems with FDA’s approach to food safety. On April 25, a total of 29 consumer and public health groups, industry groups, and state government representatives co-signed a letter addressing FDA about the issues they perceive within FDA’s structure, governance, and performance. On the same day, the groups also held a joint press conference clarifying their stance. 

The letter expresses the groups’ appreciation for FDA’s past collaboration with stakeholders and work in implementing the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), and also addresses concerns that the food industry and consumers have observed in recent years. The letter highlights the groups’ main qualm as FDA’s lack of a single, full-time leader with the expertise and power necessary to effectively direct FDA’s food programs. The letter calls for a unification of FDA’s food program under a dedicated deputy commissioner for foods, who will have accountability to FDA’s commissioner and authority over several food program regulatory groups: the Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition (CFSAN), the Center for Veterinary Medicine (CVM), and the Office of Regulatory Affairs (ORA).

The letter states the groups’ belief that the lack of such a leader is negatively affecting the implementation of FSMA and the New Era of Smarter Food Safety, which requires a number of food program regulatory groups to work together while also working with state partners. The groups believe that improved leadership is necessary to align the regulatory groups’ and state groups’ strategic direction, resource management, and accountability. Additionally, the letter requests that FDA focus its efforts on improving transparency and engagement with stakeholders, as well as provide transparent accounting of FDA expenditures so that stakeholders can effectively work with FDA to acquire more funding for its food program.

The letter’s authors request a meeting with FDA to discuss how FDA and stakeholders can collaborate to strengthen FDA’s food safety and nutrition program. Notable groups that signed the letter include: the Association of Food and Drug officials, STOP Foodborne Illness, Consumer Reports, the Environmental Working Group, the Center for Food Safety, the International Fresh Produce Association, and others.