President Barack Obama is ordering a “complete review” of the Food and Drug Administration after it failed to detect shipments of salmonella-contaminated peanut products that have sickened more than 500 people and may be linked to as many as eight deaths, he told TODAY co-host Matt Lauer.
In an interview that aired Monday, Obama said the agency’s failure to recognize and intercept the products was only the latest of numerous “instances over the last several years” in which “the FDA has not been able to catch some of these things as quickly as I expect them to catch.”
He did not cite what other incidents he was referring to. But critics have accused the administration of former President George W. Bush of having crippled the agency by cutting its budget over the last eight years.
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“At bare minimum, we should be able to count on our government keeping our kids safe when they eat peanut butter,” Obama told Lauer in the interview, which was conducted Sunday at the White House.
Hundreds of peanut products have been recalled because of possible contamination traced to a plant in Blakely, Ga., operated by Peanut Corp. of America, based in Lynchburg, Va.
State and federal health officials said the Georgia plant knowingly shipped products tainted with salmonella, leading the FDA to announce Friday that its Office of Criminal Investigation was working with the Justice Department to investigate the company.
Obama said Sunday that he had a personal stake in the problem with peanut products, especially peanut butter, because “that’s what Sasha eats for lunch probably three times a week.” Sasha, 7, is the president’s younger daughter.
“I don’t want to have to worry about whether she’s going to get sick as a consequence to having her lunch,” Obama said.
The FDA has said commercially packaged peanut butter itself does not appear to be associated with the contaminated shipments, which were primarily peanut paste and other products that were distributed to other food companies.
Still, Obama said, “we are going to make sure that we retool the FDA, that it’s operating in a highly professional fashion and, most importantly, that we prevent these things, as opposed to trying to catch them after they’ve already occurred.”