CSPI urged FDA nominee Califf to use nutrition to advance health

FDA nominee Robert Califf speaking at event

Statement of CSPI President Dr. Peter G. Lurie

If Dr. Robert Califf is confirmed to return to lead the Food and Drug Administration, job one will be to restore the agency’s reputation for scientific integrity—a reputation which took a considerable beating during the administration of Donald Trump. This requires a commitment to high scientific standards and full transparency in agency decision-making. 

Besides restoring the primacy of science at the agency, to fully leverage their position the next Commissioner must be prepared to harness the role that food and nutrition play in advancing public health.

Excess sodium in the diet, for instance, promotes hypertension, heart disease, and early death. Reducing sodium to safer levels—as the agency’s recent voluntary sodium reduction guidelines propose—would contribute significantly to improving Americans’ heart health. The agency needs to develop a comprehensive plan for next steps in this area.

Improving food labels and using new labeling tools—such as mandatory front-of-package symbols—would help Americans reduce their risk of diet-related disease by making it easier to select healthy foods. The next Commissioner could also spur the Biden Administration to stand squarely behind the Food Labeling Modernization Act, which, besides requiring such front-of-package labels, would align our sometimes-antiquated food labeling regulations with the latest in nutrition science and a rapidly changing marketplace.

The marketplace for dietary supplements has continued to explode in the years since Califf left the FDA, with both illegal claims and illegal ingredients proliferating. We hope the next Commissioner will support comprehensive reform of the intentionally weak 1994 law governing supplements. Such reform should, at a minimum, require a mandatory registry that lists all the products on the market; without that, effective regulation is impossible.

Finally, as a former FDA Associate Commissioner myself, I urge the next Commissioner to reverse the Department of Health and Human Services order, issued under the Trump administration, that in effect precluded FDA from regulating lab-developed tests, be they for COVID-19 or other conditions. It would send a signal, small but much needed, that science and not politics is flying the plane at FDA.