Bush to nominate FDA's acting chief to permanent post

Opponents criticize Crawford, agency for drug-safety problems

February 15, 2005|By LOS ANGELES TIMES

WASHINGTON - President Bush, after a lengthy search, nominated longtime acting commissioner Lester M. Crawford yesterday to head the Food and Drug Administration, despite drug-safety problems on Crawford's watch that have undermined the agency's reputation and credibility.

The appointment of an FDA commissioner had been keenly anticipated by consumer groups and lawmakers, some of whom have criticized the agency for responding too slowly to the discovery that prescription drugs including painkillers, antidepressants and acne medications have been approved although they were found to have dangerous side effects.

By sticking with Crawford, 66, a pharmacologist and veterinarian who has been running the agency for almost a year, Bush disappointed those who had hoped for a blue-ribbon nominee who would bring reforms.

"The administration could have brought in somebody with a reputation as a tough-minded reformer whose top priority is public health, but instead they are appointing somebody who has been a bureaucrat in the agency, and who does not have a strong record of calling for needed reforms," said Michael Jacobson, of the Center for Science in the Public Interest.

Crawford served as acting commissioner for much of Bush's first term. In that time, he launched an independent scientific evaluation of the FDA's drug-safety program and won White House approval for an increase of roughly 20 percent in the budget of the safety office.

With 10,000 employees, the FDA is charged with ensuring that medicines sold in the United States are "safe and effective." It also has major responsibilities for the safety and security of the food supply.

Watchdog groups have criticized Crawford's ties to the food industry and his record as acting commissioner.

Opponents say the FDA reacted too slowly under his watch when drugs it had approved, such as Vioxx and ephedra, proved dangerous.

"Under Dr. Crawford's watch, the FDA has failed to protect the public from dangerous prescription drugs, dietary supplements and contaminated animal feed that could carry mad cow disease," said Janell Mayo Duncan, counsel for Consumers Union, which publishes Consumer Reports.

Crawford has a doctorate in pharmacology from the University of Georgia and has served as administrator of the USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service and an adviser to the World Health Organization.

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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