Senator Murray Questions FDA Commissioner Califf on Avian Flu, Cosmetics Reform, Human Foods Reorganization; Rebukes Republicans and Anti-Choice Activists for Attacking FDA’s Authority in Mifepristone Case Before SCOTUS


***WATCH: Senator Murray’s questioning of FDA Commissioner Califf***


Washington, D.C. — Today—at a Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies hearing on the fiscal year 2025 budget request for the Food and Drug Administration (FDA)—U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), Chair of the Appropriations Committee, asked FDA Commissioner Dr. Robert Califf about FDA’s role in the response to the avian flu, steps FDA has taken to implement cosmetics reform Murray negotiated and got signed into law, and FDA’s implementation of its proposal for a unified Human Foods Program, a reorganization in response to the agency’s infant formula crisis response.


In her opening comments, Senator Murray emphasized the importance of FDA’s mission and ensuring the agency has the resources to carry out that mission and spoke forcefully against the baseless claims anti-choice activists and Republican lawmakers are pushing around mifepristone, which threaten to undermine FDA’s authority in an important case before the Supreme Court.


“As I always say, every time families head out to the grocery store or sit down for a meal, they are putting their trust in FDA. The health and safety of the nation depend on the world class experts at FDA who work diligently to protect our food supply, address threats like shortages or contaminants, and a lot more.


“The stakes are always high—as we saw during the infant formula crisis, something I want to see FDA do more to learn from because no parent should ever worry about whether the formula that they feed their baby is safe. So, I’m glad we have this opportunity to talk about the resources your agency needs to fulfill its really important mission.


“Before I start my questions, I also want to say one thing I think we both agree your agency does not need: and that is political interference in FDA’s science-driven decision-making processes.


“We’ve seen a number of baseless claims and disinformation from anti-abortion activists and some Republican lawmakers, which are really threatening to undermine FDA’s credibility and its’ authority.


“So let me set the record straight—and Dr. Califf, I hope you will continue to as well.


“Mifepristone is safe, it is effective. And that’s not just me saying that—it is scientists, experts, and decades, decades of data. Republican politicians should not be overruling experts on science or overruling women about their own health care decisions.


“And in a time when women across the country are facing rampant attacks on abortion access, this dangerous disinformation is an attack we all can—and all should—be fighting loudly and clearly.”


Senator Murray began her questioning by asking Dr. Califf about the recent H5N1 avian flu outbreak that has spread from birds to dairy cattle in multiple states and has infected at least one human. The bipartisan PREVENT Pandemics Act Murray negotiated and passed as Chair of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee in 2022 established the White House Office of Pandemic Preparedness and Response Policy (OPPR) to serve as mission control and coordinate an all-of-government response to address public health threats. Murray asked Dr. Califf to explain how FDA is coordinating with OPPR and other federal agencies in response to the avian flu outbreak.


“OPPR has been the central coordinator of the effort across agencies that have boundaries that have to be overcome to work together—so the Agriculture Department is in an entirely different sphere than FDA and CDC, which are within HHS. So there is a daily call… the top leaders, in addition to the key people who carry out the operations, where what happened the day before it is reviewed, what needs to be done that day is reviewed, and the long-term plans are made,” Dr. Califf replied. “So I’m glad that you put together the plan. I just hope that the funding is adequate in the future because… we’re going to continue to have outbreaks and pandemics for the foreseeable future.”


Next, Murray asked about cosmetics reform, noting that the final FY24 funding bill included $7 million for the implementation of the Modernization of Cosmetics Regulation Act of 2022 she negotiated and got signed into law as HELP Chair. “That bill, for the first time, provided much-needed new authority to FDA to make sure that families know that the products we put on our bodies every day are safe,” Murray said, proceeding to ask Dr. Califf what steps the agency has taken over the last year to implement those new authorities and what resources FDA is requesting in their budget for this year.


“Well first of all, thanks for doing that—I think it was decades of trying before this finally happened,” Dr. Califf said. “Progress we’ve made really exceeded what we had planned—that is, for the first year—which is that we now have the listing, so there’s a place for the cosmetics companies to list that they’re on the market and what’s in them, and there’s also an adverse reporting system for the first time… This is done on a shoestring and in the budget, we have an eight million dollar ask to really instantiate this office and get to the next level. As you also know, there are several cosmetics that are very worrisome in terms of health, where we have to do a lot of work in order to take the kind of actions that are needed to protect health, and we need a budget to make sure those things can be done.”


Finally, Senator Murray also asked about the FDA’s proposed unified Human Foods Program, a reorganization of the agency’s food safety programs that is currently making its way through the administrative process: “It’s been well documented that these reforms are overdue. FDA’s regulation and enforcement of food safety standards—on issues ranging from bacteria in vegetables to arsenic in baby food—are really critical. What is your agency requesting in FY25 for implementation of the reorganization?”


“In this budget we’re asking for an additional $15 million dollars, and I honestly regard that as a hope for a down payment,” Dr. Califf responded. “The food side of the FDA has been increased but well below even the cost of living, inflationary increase at a time when the foods industry is increasingly complex, global, interdigitated with many issues. So, part of what we are doing in in the reorg is to create a budget where you can really see what the money is being spent on.” Dr. Califf added: “We’re going to have a center of excellence in nutrition, nested in that is going to be the critical foods group that was mandated in FDORA that will deal with infant formula and medical foods.”