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Nation at Food Safety ‘Tipping Point’

Love him or hate him, Michael Taylor is sharing his views on occasion in Atlantic Magazine’s online Food Wire.  Taylor, officially the senior advisor to U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Commissioner Margaret Hamburg, yesterday admitted the fight against foodborne illness “has not yet been won.”

Thumbnail image for taylor_mike.jpgUnofficially, some Capitol observers tag Taylor as one of the Obama Administration’s “czars” with broad authority over food safety policy.   Some outside Washington do not trust him because of his stint at Monsanto, maker of most of the world’s genetically modified (GM) seeds.

“This nation is at an historic tipping point when it comes to food safety,” Taylor says.  Congress is close to sending a new food safety law to the President, and the food industry wants a stronger FDA.  Dr. Hamburg has created an Office of Foods to lead FDA’s food work.

Taylor sees it all adding up as “the greatest opportunity to improve food safety in 100 years.”

He says there are several “fundamental questions” for both FDA and its partners outside of government that must be answered.  Among these are:

  • How can FDA headquarters and field staff make food safety best practices the common practices within the industry?
  • How can FDA work with importers and foreign governments to make sure “our vast, global food supply” is safe?
  • How can FDA work with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to better target and prevent significant food safety risks?
  • How can we work with others to learn from outbreaks so we can prevent them from happening again?
  • How can FDA best integrate its emergency preparedness and response roles with other federal, state and local agencies?

Under the food safety bill that has passed the House, FDA would get a huge infusion of money from fees companies would pay to ramp up inspections of both domestic and foreign food makers. 

So far, it is not clear whether Taylor has the clout of a czar.  FDA pulled back the post harvest-processing mandate on shellfish after Taylor announced it at an industry conference. The “new approach” Taylor called for did not survive the political storm, especially in Gulf States.

Taylor originally joined FDA in 1976 as a staff attorney, but left to pursue private law practice. He returned the first time in 1991 as Deputy Commissioner for policy.  He moved over to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service in 1994, where he served as Administrator.

After that, Taylor was a vice president for public policy at Monsanto.  He left for Resources for the Future, where he was a Senior Fellow focusing on food safety from a global health perspective and U.S. agricultural, trade, and development policies on poverty and hunger reduction in Africa.

Prior to his return to FDA last year, Taylor served for two years on the faculty of George Washington University’s School of Public Health and Health Services.

Photo Courtesy George Washington University.

© Food Safety News
  • Amy Philpott

    Hats off to Mr. Taylor, Congress, industry, advocacy groups and others who are working to make our food supply safe. However, the notion that “the fight against foodborne illness ‘has not yet been won.’” is misleading by even suggesting that it can be won.
    There is no winning (implying an end) to fighting foodborne illness. It is an ongoing endeavor. If for no other reason than the challenges (and the pathogens) will only change over time, not go away. Thus, we can only REDUCE THE RISK of foodborne illness. This nuance impacts how we think about “solutions” and the relationships between corporate cultures, societal expectations, and regulatory and legislative oversight.

  • hhamil

    Michael Taylor is the poster child for the revolving door career between an industry and its regulators and the newly ascending sector of academia–industry endowed center and professorships.
    As for his purported work for food safety, he has ALWAYS supported “solutions” which favor industrial agriculture and, not coincidentally, are inappropriate, cumbersome, expensive and destructive to small scale and sustainable agriculture.
    Worst of all, at the 10-22-09 Senate HELP Committee Hearing, Taylor clearly showed either his incompetence or his willingness to mislead Congress. This is shown at about 71:55 on the official video of the hearing at http://help.senate.gov/Hearings/2009_10_22/2009_10_22.html. Sen. Jeff Merkley asked FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg if there isn’t an exemption in the bill for sales from roadside stands and at farmers markets. She didn’t know and got what she characterized as “expert counsel” from Michael Taylor who was sitting directly behind her. Afterward, she stated, “I think it’s just this legislation, correct me if I’m wrong, applies just when food is entered into interstate commerce so…so, yes.” I’ll correct you, Dr. Hamburg. You are dead wrong. There is nothing in S 510 limiting its application to interstate commerce. Furthermore, S 510 applies to all “facilities” registered under the 2002 Bioterrorism Act which specifically states that entities only doing business intrastate must also register.
    The recent appointment of Michael Taylor as Deputy Commissioner for Foods is a disaster for those of us who have been working to grow, process & distribute local, healthy food for local people. Worst of all, if coupled with the passage of either HR 2749 or S 510, as written, local healthy food will ONLY be available to the affluent. The rest of us will only find the products of industrial ag available at our supermarkets. Soylent green, anyone?
    For the first time in about 50 years, we are seeing young people from all walks of life interested in farming as a career. Regulators like Taylor will cause them to look elsewhere.