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Unclear Whether New FDA Post Will Have Impact

Many food safety experts and consumer advocates were quick to praise food safety veteran and former Monsanto executive Michael Taylor’s appointment to deputy commissioner of foods at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) last week, but it is unclear whether the move will have a significant impact on the embattled agency’s effort to regulate 80 percent of the food supply.

FDA Org Chart.jpg“We’re very happy over at S.T.O.P. to see Michael R. Taylor, a veteran food expert, named as deputy commissioner for foods at the FDA,” said Safe Tables Our Priority (S.T.O.P.) on the organization’s blog this week. “The newly created position is the first to oversee all the agency’s many food and nutrition programs.”

The new post undoubtedly raises the profile of food issues within the FDA, an agency that has been long criticized for too heavily focusing on regulating drugs and medical devices–but it is hard to predict whether the position will provide meaningful change for the fractured food safety system at FDA.

Dr. David Acheson, who used to hold the position most similar to Taylor’s new gig–associate commissioner of foods, from January 2008 to July 2009–expressed doubt that the new post would have an immediate impact at the agency.

“Really it correlates to about the position I had, but with line authority over the centers,” said Acheson, who explained that while the new authority is necessary, it wont necessarily be a game-changer.

“There is no doubt in my mind that this is a need,” said Acheson, who called the increased authority “a sound decision.”

“Foods need to be raised to a higher profile,” he added.

When asked whether the new authority was likely to lead to immediate improvements in FDA’s regulation of the food supply, Acheson expressed doubt, and pointed out that Taylor has essentially been running the food safety show at FDA since becoming senior adviser to FDA commissioner Margaret Hamburg last summer.

“I think he’s been doing this job since July,” added Acheson. “We haven’t seen a big shift in six months.”

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