Susan Mayne, who has directed FDA's Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition since 2015, plans to retire May 31, FDA Commissioner Robert Califf informed agency employees Monday.

Mayne has overseen FDA’s implementation of the Food Safety Modernization Act, which included the issuing of nine FSMA rules and 70 guidance documents. She said the nutrition policies enacted over the last eight plus years “are arguably some of the most impactful ever to come out of the FDA.”

The news comes as the FDA continues to be under fire for its handling of the infant formula crisis and a proposed Human Foods Program overhaul that falls short of significant culture and organizational challenges called for under the Reagan-Udall Foundation report.

Frank Yiannas, who recently stepped down as FDA's deputy commissioner for food policy and response, is testifying before a House committee Tuesday on the infant formula crisis, and Califf will appear before House appropriators on Wednesday to defend the agency’s budget requests and FDA's reorganization plans.

In a retirement letter, Mayne said she strongly supports FDA’s proposed organization of the Human Foods Program but “decided that it is time to pass the leadership baton to a new generation of leadership who can commit to implementing the commissioner’s vision in the coming years.”

In the letter to FDA colleagues provided to Agri-Pulse, Califf said those at FDA “will all take solace in her attention to attending to the ongoing work while also planning for the new Human Foods Program in a way that will leave the agency in good stead.”

His letter thanked Mayne for her “recent work and thoughtfulness” in developing the vision for the new Human Foods Program.

“By building what I believe will be a transformative system that ensures seamless coordination across the FDA and with our many partners and stakeholders, we will continue to ensure that our nation has a safe, nutritious and plentiful food supply. And this will stand as yet another of Susan’s many significant contributions to the advancement of public health and the strengthening of the FDA,” Califf said.

Mayne’s nutrition policy actions have included updating the nutrition facts labeling, incorporating added sugars for the first time; eliminating artificially produced trans fat also known as partially hydrogenated oils; and issuing sodium reduction targets. She also helped implement menu labeling regulations required by the Affordable Care Act. 

“In addition, Susan played a critical role in the FDA’s Closer to Zero Action Plan to reduce exposure to toxic elements in foods commonly eaten by babies and young children to the lowest possible levels, as well as earlier work to reduce inorganic arsenic in infant rice cereal, the leading source of arsenic exposure in infants,” Califf said.

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Califf said Mayne brought expertise in many different areas including nutritional sciences, chemistry, toxicology, microbiology, epidemiology and genomics. “Her scientific acumen has helped ensure that the FDA’s vital work to address microbial and chemical safety of food products is based on sound science and rigorous data review. Under her leadership, CFSAN has advanced cutting edge scientific research, such as the use of whole genome sequencing of foodborne pathogens,” he said.

In 2022, CFSAN completed the first pre-market consultation of a human food made from cultured animal cells, which Califf said is an example of how she “worked to ensure that CFSAN has supported innovation in the food supply while assuring products are safe and properly labeled.”

Mayne taught at the Yale University medical school for 27 years before joining FDA.

Roberta Wagner, Consumer Brands Association vice president of regulatory and technical affairs, said CBA appreciated Mayne’s willingness to engage with the organization on a myriad of topics focused on food safety, consumer transparency and supply chain. “With her announced departure, we are reminded that the need for a fully empowered deputy commissioner to unify the foods program at FDA has never been greater. We wish Dr. Mayne well on her next chapter, and we look forward to continuing to work with the FDA to ensure the health and safety of consumers,” Wagner said.

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