Page last updated at 12:55 GMT, Saturday, 14 March 2009

Obama warns of US food 'hazard'

A peanut butter and banana sandwich in Memphis, Tennessee
A US salmonella outbreak in peanut products this year left 600 people sick

President Barack Obama has said the US food safety system is a "public health hazard" and in need of an overhaul.

He sounded the warning during his weekly radio and video address, as he appointed a new head of the federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

New York Health Commissioner Margaret Hamburg has been named for the post.

Mr Obama cited a string of recent food safety scandals including a salmonella outbreak in peanut products this year that has been linked to nine deaths.

The president said recent underfunding and understaffing at the FDA had left the agency unable to conduct annual inspections of more than a fraction of America's 150,000 food processing premises.

"That is a hazard to public health. It is unacceptable. And it will change under the leadership of Dr Margaret Hamburg," Mr Obama pledged.

Parental concern

The president also announced he was creating a working group to co-ordinate food safety laws throughout government and advise him on how to update the legislation, which he said had not been touched since it was drafted a century ago.

President Obama on food safety during his weekly video address

The appointment of 53-year-old Dr Hamburg, a bioterrorism expert who was an assistant health secretary under President Bill Clinton, must be approved by the Senate.

Mr Obama also named Baltimore Health Commissioner Joshua Sharfstein as her deputy.

The president noted contaminated food outbreaks had more than tripled to nearly 350 a year since the early 1990s.

He cited a contaminated spinach scare in 2006 and this year's salmonella peanut product outbreak, which left more than 600 people ill and led to one of the largest product recalls in US history.

Mr Obama said when he learned of the recall, he immediately thought of his seven-year-old daughter, Sasha, who eats peanut butter sandwiches several times a week.

"No parent should have to worry that their child is going to get sick from their lunch," he said.

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