Dr. Margaret Hamburg H'03 Obama's Choice for FDA Commissioner

Story posted March 14, 2009

Saying that the nation's food safety system is a "hazard to public health" and overdue for an overhaul, President Barack Obama named Dr. Margaret Hamburg, former New York City health commissioner and 2003 honorary degree recipient, to the top job at the Food and Drug Administration.

Hamburg, Bowdoin in Time Magazine

In a profile of Dr. Hamburg, Time magazine's March 12, 2009, issue includes a quote from her Baccalaureate address on May 23, 2003.

"I believe that in this age of terror, the only thing that can stop a small group of committed individuals is a large group of committed individuals. Only all of us acting together, with wise policies and sound judgments, can make our world safer."

Read the article.


Obama said too many agencies are responsible for food safety, making it difficult to share information and stop problems from falling through the cracks.

The FDA does not have enough money or workers to conduct annual inspections at more than a fraction of the 150,000 food processing plants and warehouses in the country, Obama said.

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

The president also is creating a special advisory group to coordinate food safety laws and recommend how to update them. Many of these laws have not changed since they were written early in the last century, he said.

Hamburg, a bioterrorism expert, was an assistant health secretary under President Bill Clinton and helped lay the groundwork for the government's bioterrorism and flu pandemic preparations.

As New York City's top health official in the early 1990s, Hamburg created a program that cut high rates of drug-resistant tuberculosis. She is the daughter of two doctors; her mother was the first black woman to earn a medical degree from Yale University, and she credits her father for instilling in her a passion for public health.

Hamburg's appointment requires Senate confirmation.

Hamburg was awarded an honorary Doctor of Science degree and delivered the Baccalaureate address that year.

Read the text of Hamburg's speech.

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