USA – Robert Califf has been appointed by the US Senate as commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, filling a position that had remained vacant for more than a year.  

The FDA is responsible for protecting public health in the United States and has an oversight role for both food and medicine manufacturing.  

Califf’s nomination received a spirited opposition with the final vote standing at 50-46 in favor of Califf’s confirmation. 

Prior to his appointment, the FDA was led on an interim basis by Janet Woodcock, formerly the head of the agency’s drug review division. 

Woodcock, in an email to FDA staff, said she will serve as “principal deputy” to Califf during the transition. 

Tenure to be marked by big issues in food regulation 

The new commissioner has several big issues in food regulation coming under his purview — including many labeling matters that have been pending for years. 

Califf will preside over the department as it works toward regulations for cell-based meat.  

Several companies have been working toward using cell cultures to grow meat, but it cannot be sold or served until the federal government can ensure it is safe — as well as set down rules for how these products can be labeled and marketed. 

There is also the lack of a federal regulatory framework for CBD and cannabis-infused food and beverages, even as manufacturers debut new products and invest in R&D in preparation for any developments.  

Opportunity to work on two major food labeling issues 

Califf will also have the opportunity to finish the work on two major food labeling issues that was started during the Obama administration, but have not yet been completed. 

In 2016, the FDA announced it would work toward redefining the term “healthy” for food labeling purposes.   

Another commonly used — but undefined — labeling term is “natural.” The term has been the basis of countless lawsuits and consumer actions because there is no consensus on what it means.   

This is Califf second-stint as he had served as FDA commissioner in the final year of President Barack Obama’s administration, when he was elevated from a position as deputy commissioner.  

Lawmakers raised objections over opioid policies then, too, but his confirmation was cleared by a much more decisive 89-4 vote. 

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