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Food safety official critical of FDA in resignation

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Yiannas says structure impairs the agency’s ability to operate.

Frank Yiannas, the FDA deputy commissioner of the Office of Food Policy and Response, announced he will be leaving the agency on Feb. 24. He has served in the role since 2018.

In a resignation letter that has now become public, Yiannas says that FDA’s decentralized structure of food programs has significantly impaired its ability to protect the public. It was a concern he shared with FDA Commissioner Robert Califf last February. At the time he was considering resigning.

After learning about illnesses possibly linked to an Abbot Laboratories infant formula factory plant in Sturgis, Mich., he postponed his resignation to lead the crisis response.

Yiannas only learned of the formula issue four months after it had been reported to other FDA officials. A whistleblower report submitted to FDA in Oct. 2022 offered additional details on how the deputy commissioner had not been initially advised of the situation. The deaths of two infants were later linked to formula produced at the plant.

Abbott Laboratories is now facing a criminal investigation. Yiannas says he is grateful Congress has demanded changes and the Office of the Inspector General has started its own investigation.

“My fervent hope is that American consumers, especially mothers and fathers of infants, never again have to face this type of preventable situation,” he said in his resignation letter. “It is incumbent on any public organization that has undergone a crisis of this magnitude to undergo an independent and thorough review to understand how this crisis happened, what can be done to prevent it from happening again, and that the finding is transparently shared with the public.”

He recommended that FDA create a deputy commission for food with direct oversight over those responsible for human and animal food. He also urged Cahill to consider transferring some key staff from the Office of Food Policy and Response to a new office of the deputy commissioner for foods.

TAGS: Regulatory
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