7 top traits for potential FDA commissioner

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With every President-elect, the American public is introduced to a cabinet of new public servants appointed to a host of new positions. These are the core group of officials who will serve public interests and help a president’s policies come to fruition.

The ever-important role of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) commissioner can have lasting effects. In order to keep Americans safe, the incoming FDA commissioner must have these traits if he/she will succeed.

The top seven requirements for an effective FDA commissioner:

1. Well-grounded in science

2. Ability to handle crisis situations with open communication and composure

3. Empathy

4. Take public health seriously

5. Trustworthy

6. Seek and respect the advice of FDA career staff

7. Effective advocate for FDA with Congress and the administration

{mosads}Our regulatory agencies will seemingly be bulking up on business-minded entrepreneurs in top positions in the Trump administration. Where public policy meets big business, federal agencies primary agenda must be to uphold public health and welfare. Next comes doing so in a transparent and accountable manner.

There may not be another position in the federal government that touches American lives so often and profoundly than that of FDA commissioner. With close to 325 million Americans eating 3 meals a day, and most of those meals containing a food regulated by FDA, that’s a staggering amount of responsibility. And that’s just on the food side of the equation, my area of interest.

Approximately 48 million people get sick, 128,000 are hospitalized, and 3,000 die from eating contaminated food in the U.S. every year, according to latest statistics from the Centers for Disease Control. The severity of illness will vary. Young children, the elderly, pregnant women and those with suppressed immune systems are most affected, some with lifelong consequences.

Running FDA means you are accountable to consumers for the safety and security of the food they feed their families on a daily basis. Every large outbreak brings constituents back to your doorstep for answers on why it happened and how you will prevent similar occurrences in the future. In the short timeframe of writing this article today, the following FDA alerts have occurred:

  • Recall for beef pet products due to Salmonella & Listeria threat to pets and humans

  • Advisory not to eat a certain goat cheese due to potential Listeria problems

  • Allergen recall for vegan mac & cheese products that may contain dairy

  • Recall for snack chips that may contain Salmonella

Of the 22 current and past FDA commissioners, 19 have been M.D.’s or Ph.D’s, and you have to go back to 1954 to find one approved that didn’t have extensive medical and scientific credentials. These backgrounds have been instrumental in meeting the complex demands of the commissioner.  In addition, successful commissioner have well-honed communication and interpersonal skills — they exhibited in showing compassion, respect to their agency personnel and subject matter experts, answering to victims of foodborne disease, articulating agency needs and budgets, defending agency positions to Congress, being responsible for public health solutions to societal issues, and so much more.

The misery of life-threatening foodborne illness does not discriminate between political parties- nasty pathogens can end up on the dinner plates of Democrats, Republicans, and yes, even Libertarians. 

The safety of the food we eat must not become a partisan issue, or one left to venture capitalists unless they embody all of the other characteristics needed to do the job of FDA commissioner well and in the public interest.

Donna Emanuel Rosenbaum has her masters degree in communication and is the CEO and lead consultant for Food Safety Partners, Ltd., a national firm that specializes in consumer-based projects. 

The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the views of The Hill.

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