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FDA announces a restructuring of the agency's food safety and nutrition division

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

The head of the Food and Drug Administration has announced a major restructuring of the agency's food safety and nutrition division. NPR's Allison Aubrey reports the changes come around concerns that the agency did not act swiftly or effectively enough to prevent a national shortage of baby formula last year.

ALLISON AUBREY, BYLINE: One year ago, the baby formula manufacturer Abbott issued a voluntary recall. There were reports of bacterial contamination in formula made at a facility in Sturgis, Mich. As parents searched for supplies of formula, scrutiny over the Food and Drug Administration's handling of the crisis intensified. An independent review of the agency pointed to leadership problems. Staff operated in silos within the agency and did not share information. Overlapping roles and the lack of a single leader created a sense of constant turmoil, a report concluded. Now, FDA Commissioner Robert Califf has announced a restructuring aimed at fixing the problems...

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ROBERT CALIFF: We really believe that, with the reorganization, the system of safety and inspections will be much more preemptive.

AUBREY: ...Catching problems earlier to better protect consumers and the food supply. A new deputy commissioner will be hired to oversee regulatory actions and strategy and improve efficiency. But there's mixed reaction from health and food groups. The American Heart Association's chief executive applauds the creation of a new Center for Excellence in Nutrition, which is part of the reorganization. But Jerry Mande, an adjunct professor at the Harvard School of Public Health and CEO of Nourish Science, says the changes don't go far enough.

JERRY MANDE: I'm disappointed. FDA was created to ensure food doesn't make us sick acutely or chronically.

AUBREY: And given that a leading cause of death in the U.S. is diet-related heart disease, Mande argues the agency needs to do more.

Allison Aubrey, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Allison Aubrey is a correspondent for NPR News, where her stories can be heard on Morning Edition and All Things Considered. She's also a contributor to the PBS NewsHour and is one of the hosts of NPR's Life Kit.