LOVE HIM or hate him -- and there are plenty of people in each category -- Dr. David Kessler departs after six years as head of the Food and Drug Administration with an enviable record of accomplishment. When he arrived at the agency, it was widely regarded as a paper tiger, a bureaucracy weighed down by lethargy and red tape. No one can say that now.
The FDA is a significant player in the important debates about public health. In many cases, such as restrictions on children's access to cigarettes, it has sparked the debate. Public servants who dream about making a difference can take a lesson from Dr. Kessler, who combined his training in medicine, law and business with an ability to focus the energies of a sprawling agency and bring about concrete improvements in public health.
Early on he surprised food manufacturers by enforcing labeling regulations. He seized cases of orange juice labeled as "fresh" even though it was made from concentrate. He then cracked down on vegetable oil manufacturers who were using a "no cholesterol" label to suggest the product was a healthy choice despite the fact that it was 100 percent fat.