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FDA labs to remain open until review

- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 2, 2007

The Food and Drug Administration has suspended its plan to cut half its laboratories until a new Cabinet-level panel finishes its review of ways to ensure the safety of imports, FDA Commissioner Andrew C. von Eschenbach said yesterday.

The suspension will allow officials to "step back, analyze and assess" the results of the high-level review, Dr. von Eschenbach told reporters.

The FDA has been under increasing fire as concerns rise over tainted food and drug imports from China and elsewhere.

President Bush last month set up a panel to examine import safety, headed by Health and Human Services Secretary Michael O. Leavitt, that will report back to Mr. Bush next month.

A reorganization plan that would involve cutting seven of the FDA's 13 field laboratories has been criticized by Reps. John D. Dingell and Bart Stupak, both Michigan Democrats.

Mr. Dingell, chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, and Mr. Stupak, who heads the panel's oversight and investigations subcommittee, are concerned about what they call a plan to "drastically cut" FDA laboratory analysts.

Dr. von Eschenbach said the panel's review could lead to increased cooperation with Customs and Border Protection, the Agriculture Department and state authorities.

Margaret Glavin, associate commissioner for regulatory affairs, said in a memo yesterday that the FDA had "decided to take another look at our proposed design" and that the suspension would allow the FDA to consider its structure in light of recommendations from the panel and other factors, such as congressional sentiments.

Dr. von Eschenbach stressed that the reorganization is not aimed at cutting costs but would be an effort to create a "modern infrastructure that would be more efficient and more effective and better equipped."

Mr. Stupak dismissed the suspension yesterday, saying, "Not once, in the 70,000 pages of documents that our subcommittee received from the FDA, does the FDA justify why this reorganization plan makes sense from either a safety or a cost standpoint.

"Whether they are closed today or 90 days from now, closing the FDA"s field labs, and consolidating the district offices, which places more power in Washington, makes no sense for America"s food safety."