There’s no question President-elect Barack Obama has a full plate of urgent problems as he goes about putting together his administration, but members of Congress, consumer advocates and industry officials agree that food safety issues deserve early attention.

A strong FDA Commissioner is seen as a first step toward restoring integrity to the food inspection process. Critics point out the agency had only an acting director during four of the eight years of the Bush administration. Fairly or unfairly, the FDA’s reputation suffered in recent years after a number of tainted-food recalls.

“The FDA’s going to have to re-earn the trust of the public,” says Dr. Sidney Wolfe, director for the consumer group, Public Citizen’s Health Research Group.

 In addition to a strong commissioner, Wolfe and others would like to see the FDA receive more resources and power. Late last year, an unlikely alliance that included the Consumer Federation of America and Center for Science in the Public Interest, as well as the Grocery Manufacturers Association and the Food Marketing Institute, publicly supported efforts by Congressional Democrats to beef up the FDA’s FY2009 budget.

More free trade needed  

The Democratic sweep in the November elections might not bode well for free trade, but National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) President John Engler says the US needs more free trade, not less. In late October, Engler called for a Trans-Atlantic Free Trade Agreement, noting that the US and EU now account for about 56% of the world’s GDP.

Engler says NAM does not regard last summer’s failure of the July World Trade Organization (WTO) Ministerial to be the end of the Doha Round or the death of the WTO.

“The Kennedy Round of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade in the 1960s took four years,” he says. “The Tokyo round took six years. The Uruguay Round of the ‘80s and ‘90s took eight years. No one should be surprised if the Doha Round- the most difficult yet-would take 10 years.”