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FDA taps new Human Foods Program head after baby formula crisis

Agency picks former EPA official James ‘Jim’ Jones to lead oversight of food safety, chemical safety, nutrition and other areas

Empty shelves at a Target store in Queens, N.Y., during last year's baby formula shortage.
Empty shelves at a Target store in Queens, N.Y., during last year's baby formula shortage. (Lindsey Nicholson/Getty Images file photo)

The Food and Drug Administration on Wednesday announced the selection of its first deputy commissioner for human foods — part of an effort to reorganize the agency’s oversight of food safety after contaminated baby formula caused major shortages last year.

James “Jim” Jones, a former EPA official, will start his new role on Sept. 24 leading the new Human Foods Program, which will oversee food safety, chemical safety, nutrition and other areas.

The proposed Human Foods Program would consolidate several food safety programs under the FDA into a single program overseen by Jones, who will report directly to Commissioner Robert Califf.

“Our proposed reorganization is the largest undertaking of its kind in recent history for our agency. I’m confident that under Jim’s leadership, we will build a stronger organization that will be integrated with other components of the FDA and focused on keeping the foods we regulate safe and nutritious, while ensuring the agency remains on the cutting edge of the latest advancements in food science and nutrition,” Califf said in a statement.

The FDA proposed the reorganization after an analysis by the Reagan-Udall Foundation’s independent expert panel for foods found the current structure “reinforces duplicative or competing roles and responsibilities, siloed work and inadequate internal and external engagement.”

Califf requested the review after criticism of the agency’s handling of the infant formula shortage, which was caused by FDA-ordered closures of plants in Michigan that produced contaminated baby formula.

The review concluded that the work conducted by the Office of Food Policy and Response, the Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition and relevant parts of the Office of Regulatory Affairs did not have a clear leader or decision-maker.

Jones was part of the independent expert panel that wrote that report and is “intimately knowledgeable of the agency’s challenges and opportunities,” the FDA said in a statement.

In his new role, Jones will set and advance priorities for the Human Foods Program and exercise decision-making over all of its entities when the reorganization takes effect, the FDA said.

“I now look forward to helping the agency realize its vision for the proposed Human Foods Program, including carrying out important nutrition initiatives to improve the health of our country,” Jones said.

At the EPA, Jones made decisions related to the regulation of pesticides and commercial chemicals and led the Obama administration’s efforts to update a 1976 law giving the government more authority to regulate chemicals.

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