Tuesday, May 19, 2009
Obama's Anti-Capitalistic Brilliance Hoodwinks Elephants, Uses Swine Flu to Advance an Unfriendly Businesswoman to Head FDA; as CPB Predicted...
WASHINGTON (Dow Jones)--The U.S. Senate voted unanimously Monday to approve Margaret Hamburg as head of the Food and Drug Administration, giving her the reins to an agency under intense public and congressional pressure to better police the nation's health products. Hamburg, 53, will be heading an agency that has been severely underfunded for more than a decade and is struggling to ensure the safety of imported products and medicines, such as heparin, from China. It has also had to deal with multiple food outbreaks involving peanut butter, tomatoes and spinach. She will also have to gain the trust of FDA employees, many who have complained to Congress and President Barack Obama about being overruled by FDA managers on scientific decisions. Hamburg told the Senate last month that she understands the agency's troubles and "would very much like to create a culture that would enable all voices to be heard." Her post has been one of the most contested behind the scenes and the food, drug, device and health industries have all been lobbying for candidates considered more business friendly and less consumer oriented. When she was nominated in March, the White House named another candidate associated with safety and consumer issues, Joshua Sharfstein, as the FDA's principal deputy commissioner. He is currently acting head of the FDA. Hamburg's specialty is bioterrorism and pandemics. Her expertise in dealing with these issues, in light of the swine flu outbreak, contributed to bipartisan willingness to approve her with little opposition. Hamburg has said her top priority will be to improve food safety. Obama has also said he wants to improve the safety of the nation's food supply, and his budget proposal released this month included $783 million for food oversight efforts. That compares with $649 million in the prior year. Hamburg comes to the job with experience in public health and bioterrorism. In New York City, she headed the city's health department during the 1990s and quickly won praise for her aggressive actions on AIDS and an epidemic of tuberculosis. She has been praised for quickly stockpiling supplies of a smallpox vaccine when the Clinton administration became concerned in the late 1990s about the possibility of a chemical-warfare attack by Iraq. Hamburg refused to take a morality oath demanded by the Board of Education in 1992 while the city was debating sex education in schools, saying science-driven methods, not "wishful thinking," should be the basis for educating youngsters on how to avoid AIDS. Her expertise in dealing with pandemics will likely come in hand quickly as the U.S. faces an outbreak of the A/H1N1 influenza, also known as swine flu. Although the outbreak has been milder than expected, officials are bracing for a possible resurgence after the summer. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Monday reported more than 5,100 confirmed and probable cases in 47 states and the District of Columbia, and Sunday a New York City man became the sixth person to die from the disease in the U.S. More than 36,000 people die from the seasonal flu annually in the U.S. The FDA has been working closely with the pharmaceutical industry to come up with a vaccine and ensure there are enough antivirals ready in case the outbreak widens. Hamburg may also have deal with a new area of regulation for the FDA: tobacco. The House has approved a bill that would give the FDA power to regulate tobacco, but the legislation faces opposition in the Senate from some lawmakers in tobacco-producing states. Critics argue the legislation will further strain the agency, but the FDA's oversight will be paid for by user fees from the industry. Indeed, Republican Mike Enzi of Wyoming, ranking member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, said he supports Hamburg and wants his colleagues to also but doesn't endorse the tobacco regulation. "FDA resources are already stretched too thin - I have serious concerns about adding tobacco to the list of products the agency must regulate," he said in a statement Wednesday. Hamburg told a Senate panel earlier this month that she supports letting the FDA regulate tobacco, saying "If done successfully, we can reduce smoking and we can make cigarettes less harmful." -By Jared A. Favole and Corey Boles, Dow Jones Newswires; 202.862.9207; email@example.com (Alicia Mundy contributed to this report.) Click here to go to Dow Jones NewsPlus, a web front page of today's most important business and market news, analysis and commentary: http://www.djnewsplus.com/access/al?rnd=sHihGrv5aLF4CzQ%2F8Oj99A%3D%3D. You can use this link on the day this article is published and the following day. (END) Dow Jones Newswires May 18, 2009 19:04 ET (23:04 GMT) Copyright (c) 2009 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.- - 07 04 PM EDT 05-18-09
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