- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 15, 2009

President Obama on Saturday created a food safety working group to advise him on new rules and tools to protect the U.S. food supply and tapped two people to serve at the top of the Food and Drug Administration.

Mr. Obama said food-borne illness outbreaks have increased in recent years - including major salmonella outbreaks involving spinach in 2006, peppers or tomatoes last year, and peanuts this year. He said these and other cases show that the United States must do more than it has been doing, and he called on his food safety group, led by the secretaries of the departments of Agriculture and Health and Human Services, to give him recommendations.

“This working group will bring together Cabinet secretaries and senior officials to advise me on how we can upgrade our food safety laws for the 21st century, foster coordination throughout government and ensure that we are not just designing laws that will keep the American people safe, but enforcing them,” Mr. Obama said in his weekly radio address.

He announced that he will nominate Dr. Margaret Hamburg, former HHS assistant secretary and former health commissioner of New York City, to be FDA commissioner. He also tapped Dr. Joshua Sharfstein, Baltimore’s health commissioner, to be FDA’s principal deputy commissioner.

The president also said he’ll boost the number of inspectors, saying the FDA has been so understaffed in recent years that it can inspect only 5 percent of the nation’s 150,000 food processing plants each year.

Mr. Obama said food safety hits him personally.

“When I heard peanut products were being contaminated earlier this year, I immediately thought of my 7-year-old daughter, Sasha, who has peanut butter sandwiches for lunch probably three times a week,” he said.

While avowing that he still doesn’t “believe government has the answer to every problem,” the president said food safety is one area where citizens rely on the government to ensure food and medicines are not harmful.

In the Republican radio address, Sen. Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, the top Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, continued Republicans’ attacks on Mr. Obama’s economic program, saying he’s taxing too much and spending too much.

He said the president’s anti-greenhouse gas proposal “could amount to an average hidden tax increase of around $3,000 per household a year” and cited a study calculating that Mr. Obama’s plan to cut down on tax deductions for charitable giving could reduce philanthropy by $9 billion.

“Americans need leadership, and they need confidence now. They need their president and their elected representatives to connect all the dots. Jobs are hard-won. The government should first do no harm,” he said.

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