WASHINGTON – The US Senate by a 50-46 vote on Feb. 15 confirmed Robert M. Califf, MD, as the new commissioner for the US Food and Drug Administration. Dr. Califf, a cardiologist and professor of medicine at the Duke University School of Medicine in Durham, NC, previously served as FDA commissioner from 2016-17.

President Joe Biden had nominated Dr. Califf as commissioner in November 2021. He will replace Janet Woodcock, MD, who has served as acting director since January 2021.

Two issues facing the FDA are the labeling of plant-based milk alternatives and the possibility of legally using cannabidiol (CBD) in foods and beverages. The FDA currently does not allow CBD, a hemp extract, in foods, beverages or dietary supplements because it is used in an FDA-approved drug (Epidiolex). The milk industry has argued that milk alternatives such as almond milk and soy milk should not be labeled as milk.

“IDFA encourages Dr. Califf to put the ‘F’ back in the FDA by focusing attention on making FDA more efficient and nimbler for consumers and more responsive to the feedback of industry,” said Michael Dykes, DVM, president and chief executive officer of the International Dairy Foods Association. “The FDA is one of the most important regulatory agencies within the federal government because it ensures the safety and security of our nation’s food supply. For decades, FDA leaders have promised to modernize food standards while allowing food makers more flexibility for innovation in response to shifting consumer demands and trends. However, food standards have become more complex and onerous, the FDA’s response times on pending rules and petitions has increased and promises to streamline rulemaking have not been kept.”

Robb MacKie, president and chief executive officer of the American Bakers Association, also mentioned the “F” in FDA.

“The COVID-19 pandemic revealed many areas for growth at the FDA, including the need for flexibility, transparency and more nimble decision-making,” he said. “America’s bakers and baking suppliers are optimistic that Commissioner Califf will remember the importance of the ‘F’ in the FDA by modernizing, streamlining, and better communicating the FDA’s rule-making and petition process. ABA and the broader food industry welcome the opportunity to strengthen our productive partnership with the FDA, ensuring the new administration understands the complex needs of America’s food makers.”

Nancy Brown, chief executive officer of the American Heart Association, spoke in favor of Dr. Califf’s confirmation.

“Throughout his career, Dr. Califf has been a relentless force in the fight against heart disease and stroke,” she said. “As FDA commissioner, Dr. Califf will put this experience to work leading the agency’s critical efforts to protect and improve the public’s health. The American Heart Association congratulates Dr. Califf on his confirmation and thanks the Senate for its bipartisan support of an outstanding leader.”