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FDA putting out the 'help wanted' sign

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KAI RYSSDAL: The Food and Drug Administration hasn't been having much fun lately. The agency has been blamed for scandal after scandal, everything from tainted pet food to toxic toothpaste. Today, after a little financial help from Congress, the FDA announced 1,300 new hires, a big deal for an agency that currently employs about 10,000 employees.

Jeremy Hobson reports from Washington.


JEREMY HOBSON: Former FDA commissioner Donald Kennedy has been calling attention to the agency's troubles for some time now. Here's how he reacted to today's news.

DONALD KENNEDY: It's better than nothing.

Kennedy says the FDA still needs more money. Most of the new hires are on the drug side of the agency, pharmacists, chemists and the like, and about 40 percent will be paid for by higher industry user fees. Kennedy says that ties the hands of officials.

KENNEDY: Not only can you not use much of that money to monitor drug safety, you can't use any of it in the food side of the agency's mission.

The food side is what worries Caroline Smith DeWaal. She's the head of food safety at the Center for Science in the Public Interest. She's cautiously optimistic.

CAROLINE SMITH DEWAAL: The announcement for hiring is only the first step in a long process. They will need much more to see real improvement, especially in the area of food safety.

She says she'd be happier to see dozens of new hires at ports of entry and stations abroad than hundreds of new Washington-based positions, but assistant FDA commissioner Kimberly Holden says the new hires go a long way toward keeping the public safe.

KIMBERLY HOLDEN: A lot of these new staff that we'll be hiring, we will have them out in the field in full force to help conduct any additional inspections that are needed.

Holden says one big problem will be finding 1,300 qualified people who wouldn't rather take a better paying job in the private sector.

In Washington, I'm Jeremy Hobson for Marketplace.

About the author

Jeremy Hobson is host of Marketplace Morning Report, where he looks at business news from a global perspective to prepare listeners for the day ahead.

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