U.S – The United States’ Senate has approved Dr. Robert Califf as the next Commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), filling a critical role at the key federal agency that has been without a Senate-confirmed leader for more than a year.
It took President Joe Biden nearly 10 months to nominate Califf, despite the ongoing and deadly COVID-19 pandemic.
The final vote was 50 to 46, with six Republican Party senators voting to confirm Califf and five Democrats voting against.
Dr. Califf is a cardiologist who served as the FDA commissioner in the last year of the Obama administration.
As the top official of the FDA, he is committed to strengthening programs and policies that enable the agency to carry out its mission to protect and promote the public health. Dr. Califf served as the FDA’s Deputy Commissioner for Medical Products and Tobacco from February 2015 until his first appointment as Commissioner in February 2016.
Prior to rejoining the FDA, Dr. Califf was head of medical strategy and Senior Advisor at Alphabet Inc., contributing to strategy and policy for its health subsidiaries Verily Life Sciences and Google Health.
He joined Alphabet in 2019, after serving as a professor of medicine and vice chancellor for clinical and translational research at Duke University. He also served as director of the Duke Translational Medicine Institute and founding director of the Duke Clinical Research Institute.
Dr. Janet Woodcock has been serving as the acting FDA commissioner since the beginning of the Biden administration. She joined the FDA in 1986, and has held a number of senior leadership positions there, including terms as the Director of Center for Drug Evaluation and Research from 1994 to 2004 and 2007 to 2021.
Former FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb told Face the Nation prior to the appointment that Califf will be great in the role.
“I think he’s an outstanding choice for the agency as he previously held that job, and I inherited the FDA from his leadership, so a lot of his policies and his team was what I inherited when I took over the agency,” Gottlieb said.
The 70-year-old Commissioner was sworn into office yesterday.
Califf to prioritize dairy labelling
During Califf’s nomination hearing in December, Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., inquired if he would commit to finalizing guidance on the use of dairy terms for plant-based products while preserving the use of dairy terms for dairy products.
Califf responded by committing to making dairy labeling a priority if he was confirmed, a view which is shared by the country’s third largest dairy cooperative based on milk volume, Edge Dairy Farmer Cooperative.
“There is almost nothing more fundamental about safety than people understanding exactly what they’re ingesting,” he said at the time.
Edge Dairy’s President, Brody Stapel, acknowledged that dairy farmers totally agree with Dr. Califf that it is fundamental for people to know what they’re eating.
“The simple fact that the new commissioner has acknowledged that is a big step in the right direction. The FDA has strict standards of identity for dairy products, but the agency continues to refuse to enforce the rules. This should have been cleared up a long time ago,” he said.
Mislabeling remains a top concern for his group’s members, said Stapel, whose co-op represents farmers throughout the Upper Midwest. He noted that dairy customers should be treated fairly.
“There is room for a variety of products, and customers should have choices. But the plant-based beverage industry is quick to dismiss the fact that misleading labels confuse customers. That’s unfair,” he said.
The FDA commissioner is usually appointed by the president of the United States and must be confirmed by the Senate. The commissioner reports to the Secretary of Health and Human Services.
Due to frequent controversies involving the FDA, appointments are not always prompt and the agency is often headed by an acting commissioner.