WASHINGTON - President Obama's pick to oversee food and drug safety pledged yesterday to revamp protection of the nation's food supply to help prevent disease outbreaks.

Margaret Hamburg, a bioterrorism expert who once served as New York City health commissioner, breezed through her Senate confirmation hearing with no senators expressing opposition.

Hamburg, 53, said she wanted to restore public confidence in the Food and Drug Administration by putting science first and running an open and accountable operation. She also said she would support having the agency regulate tobacco if asked by Congress.

The full Senate is expected to vote on her nomination before Memorial Day. If confirmed, Hamburg's most immediate task will be to oversee development of a vaccine for the new swine flu. But she said food safety would be her major ongoing project.

"The agency is facing a range of new and daunting challenges," Hamburg told senators, ranging from the globalization of food and drug production to the emergence of new and complex medical technologies.

Meanwhile, Obama is seeking the biggest budget increase ever for the FDA, nearly half of which is aimed at improving food safety.

The FDA budget would rise by $511 million under Obama's plan, reaching $3.04 billion for the fiscal year ending Sept. 30. It adds $259 million to improve food safety and would boost the ranks of 2,165 food inspectors by 20 percent.

The FDA oversees products ranging from peanut butter to cancer drugs to medical imaging machines - a portfolio that represents about a quarter of consumer products. A few years ago, it was shaken by the withdrawal from the market of Vioxx, a painkiller that turned out to have serious heart risks. More recently, outbreaks of foodborne illness have exposed haphazard oversight of the nation's far-flung food supply. Within the agency, scientists in the medical-devices center are in revolt over what they call management interference.

On top of all that, the FDA must play a critical role in developing a vaccine for the new H1N1 virus. Hamburg, as an assistant health secretary under President Bill Clinton, helped lay the groundwork for the government's bioterrorism and flu pandemic preparations.

She is the daughter of doctors. Her mother was the first black woman to earn a medical degree from Yale University. She credits her father's side of the family for imbuing in her a passion for social concerns.