Scott Gottlieb, the Food and Drug Administration commissioner whose two-year tenure has included oversight of recent romaine outbreaks and implementation of many Food Safety Modernization Act regulations, has resigned.
Gottlieb released a statement on the FDA’s Twitter account, saying he’s leaving the agency in a month to spend more time with his family.
“There are many important efforts we undertook together, countless new policies we advanced, and laws we enforced with vigor to protect consumers,” he wrote. “Over the coming weeks I’ll continue to work to cement more of these efforts, to secure our 2020 budget, and to help transition the agency to new leadership.”
Alex Azar, the Secretary of Health and Human Services tweeted “The public health of our country is better off for the work the @US_FDA team has done over the last two years, and I will personally miss working with Scott.” The FDA is an HHS agency.
Gottlieb’s most controversial decision for the produce industry, perhaps, is the shutdown of the romaine industry in November after a third recall of the lettuce/leafy greens in a year due to E. coli contamination. The 6-day freeze on harvesting, packing, shipping and sales of all romaine products in the U.S. was designed to “purge” all product from the marketplace and restore consumer confidence as the agency pinpointed the source.
At the time, the FDA announced a new food safety surveillance program targeting romaine.
In the weeks that followed, the FDA worked with industry groups on the recurring leafy greens outbreaks, an effort which still continues through a multi-faceted effort with industry, government, academia and other groups in a leafy greens/romaine task force.
Jennifer McEntire, vice president of food safety and technology for the United Fresh Produce Association, said the FDA has been a "full participant in the task force and we have no reason to believe" the agency's involvement will be affected by Gottlieb's resignation.
"United Fresh appreciates the leadership and support Commissioner Gottlieb has provided, and we look forward to our continued relationship with FDA," McEntire said.
President Donald Trump tweeted that Gottlieb has done an “absolutely terrific job” as commissioner.