The US Health Secretary-designate has indicated that she would look to rebuild trust in existing food safety regulators such as the US Food and Drug Administration.

Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius, who is President Obama’s nominee to the position of Secretary of Health and Human Services, admitted that food safety agencies in the US may have lost the confidence of the public.

“It is a core responsibility of the HHS, through the FDA, to ensure the food we eat and the medications we take are safe,” Sebelius told the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee yesterday (31 March).

“Unfortunately there is a growing concern that the FDA may no longer have the confidence of the public and Congress.”

Public confidence in the US food regulatory bodies has been shaken by a number of large-scale, highly publicised, food recalls. 

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Salmonella contamination of peanut products manufactured by the Peanut Corporation of America has sickened more than 700 people over the last four months and led to the recall of over 3,000 products.

A Congressional hearing into the outbreak has uncovered what critics view as serious flaws in the way the incident was handled by food regulatory bodies.

One recurring criticism is that disparate agencies have failed to cooperate and communicate effectively, delaying identification of the source of salmonella and fuelling calls for the creation of a single body to oversee food safety.

Currently, 15 federal agencies, including the Food and Drug Administration and the US Department of Agriculture, are responsible for food safety.

However, Sebelius seemingly dismissed calls for the creation of a single food safety body.

“If confirmed as Secretary, I will work to restore trust in the FDA as the leading science-based regulatory agency in the world,” Sebelius said. “I will do so by working to strengthen the FDA’s ability to meet the pressing scientific and global challenges of the 21st century, and by sending a clear message from the top that the President and I expect key decisions at the FDA to be made on the basis of science – period.”

Nevertheless, restoring faith in the existing US food safety system looks set to be an uphill struggle. Yesterday’s revelation that Setton Pistachio of Terra Bella, the second-largest pistachio processor in the US, distributed pistachios contaminated with salmonella, is likely to add weight to calls for reform.

Already various companies – including the likes of PepsiCo’s Frito Lay, Kraft Foods and Kroger – have been forced to recall various products containing the affected nuts.