For Joe Biden, getting elected was the easy part. Rarely has an incoming president faced so many simultaneous crises.

But crisis can mean opportunity. And when it comes to protecting our health, the new administration can do a lot. Here are a few ideas.

First and foremost, we must get the Covid-19 pandemic under control and, by so doing, restore the economy. Roughly 350,000 American lives were lost to Covid in 2020.

Denying science is useless in combatting a deadly virus. Relying on science (and scientists) in government, academia, and industry is the only way to end a pandemic that has killed more Americans than World War I and the wars in Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan, and Iraq combined.

But controlling the virus is just the start.

With endless lines at food banks, it’s high time the U.S. Department of Agriculture—with help from Congress—boosted SNAP benefits and used the program to promote healthier foods. The USDA should also restore rules requiring school meals to have more whole grains and less salt, and set limits on added sugars.

Meanwhile, the Food and Drug Administration needs to do something about the silent pandemic of cardiovascular disease that excess salt causes. The FDA should finalize its draft guidance—issued 4½ years ago—encouraging companies to voluntarily reduce salt in processed and restaurant foods.

There’s more.

The new administration should create a White House Deputy Assistant to the President for Food and Nutrition Policy, and should press Congress to create a National Institute of Nutrition at the National Institutes of Health.

It should also require government buildings—including those that house offices and correctional facilities—to serve healthier foods. And it should close the loophole that allows the food industry to secretly determine which ingredients are “generally recognized as safe.”

Next, it’s time to reverse a slew of Trump-era orders, many dedicated to gumming up the government’s efforts to protect the public’s health.

Among them:

  • An executive order forcing slaughterhouses to stay open during Covid-19 outbreaks.
  • A proposal to cancel Department of Health and Human Services rules that are at least 10 years old unless they are re-justified (some 2,400 are on the books).
  • An executive order requiring agencies to strike two existing rules for every new one they issue.

Finally, the Biden administration must reverse Trump’s America First approach and rejoin the World Health Organization as a contributing member. If we learned one thing last year, it’s that viruses don’t respect borders.

Few of these policy shifts will come easily...but rest assured that CSPI will be on the front lines fighting for every one of them.

Peter G. Lurie, MD, MPH
President, Center for Science in the Public Interest