By Cynthia Dizikes
Monday, Feb. 2, 2009


WASHINGTON, D.C. — Following last month's devastating salmonella outbreak that sickened more than 500 people and led to the deaths of three Minnesotans, Sen. Amy Klobuchar is urging President Obama today to pick up the pace on nominating a new commissioner for the Food and Drug Administration.

"More needs to be done to fulfill the federal government's responsibilities for food safety," the Minnesota Democrat wrote in a letter (PDF) to the president, noting that nearly 200 Minnesota school districts learned last weekend that they had received cans of peanuts from the contaminated plant in Georgia.

Klobuchar, adding that the government's primarily role is protecting its citizens, praised the possibility of a criminal investigation by the FDA and the Department of Justice into the matter.

 "Ensuring that Americans have safe food is a basic issue of public safety, health and consumer protection," she wrote. "Whenever contaminated food is allowed to reach consumers, public trust in the integrity of our food supply and the effectiveness of our government is undermined."

Klobuchar also asked the president to consider possible reforms identified by the Government Accountability Office, including greater coordination among federal agencies, more resources for the FDA's food safety activities and tougher standards and more inspections.

In an interview aired today on NBC's "Today" show, the president said the outbreak is just the latest failure by the FDA to recognize a problem and stop contaminated products from going out to the public. He added that he is ordering a "complete review" of the FDA.

"The FDA has not been able to catch some of these things as quickly as I expect them to catch," Obama said.

Federal officials have said that the plant had a salmonella problem dating back to at least June 2007 that was not disclosed to the FDA.

The Energy and Commerce subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations is expected to hold a hearing Feb. 11 on the matter.