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Food Safety & Consumer Leaders Come To Taylor’s Defense

Michael Taylor, with major accomplishments in food safety for two Democratic Presidents, is nevertheless finding himself the target of a petition seeking his removal.

And as if the old adage needed more proof that political movements always end up eating their own, Mr. Taylor’s nemesis is MoveOn, the left-of-center group that got its start trying to retain President Clinton after his sexual liaison with Monica Lewinsky.

Taylor, currently deputy commissioner for foods at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), did not get on MoveOn’s bad side for anything as nefarious as that.

He did however do a 15-month stint as vice president for public policy for Monsanto, leaving the corporation that has been called one of America’s ten most innovative companies, in January 2000.

 

If Taylor’s obituary were written now, it’s not his short time at Monsanto that would get much attention.  It would be his two longer periods of public service.  At USDA during the Clinton Administration, he was the top administrator  for the Food Safety and Inspection Service that first banned E. coli O157:H7 from beef.

And at FDA, he put his skills with Congress to work to get the Food Safety Modernization Act passed by Congress and he now in charge of implementation.  

Still, a loose coalition of genetic engineering (GE) opponents, raw milk advocates, organic farmers and the like has voiced objections to Taylor since he joined the Obama Administration.  They point to other stints in Taylor’s resume where they claim he had ties to Monsanto.

A petition went up months ago, but only after MoveOn adopted Taylor’s removal as a pet cause has the effort “gone viral.”   It has so far collected about 420,000 signatures.

Now,  however, some of the nation’s best known food safety and consumer advocates are trying to see if they can get MoveOn to back down.

 “We acknowledge that Monsanto symbolizes a lot of things that many people (including some of us) don’t like about modern, industrial agriculture. But Mr. Taylor’s résumé is not reducible to his work at that company,” the signers wrote MoveOn.

“It is far more relevant that in the Clinton Administration he headed the Food Safety and Inspection Service at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, where he stood up to the meat industry and fought for strict controls that help keep E. coli and other pathogens out of meat and poultry. Since joining the Obama Administration, Taylor has been working extraordinarily hard to transform the FDA from a reactive agency that chases down foodborne‐illness outbreaks after people fall ill, to a proactive public‐health‐based agency focused on preventing foods from becoming contaminated in the first place.”

“We are confident that his leadership, formerly at USDA and now at FDA, has and will continue to reduce the number of Americans sickened, hospitalized, and killed by foodborne pathogens.”

Signing on to the public letter are:

-Michael F. Jacobson, Ph.D., Executive Director Center for Science in the Public Interest

-Shaun Kennedy, Director, National Center for Food Protection and Defense Director, Partnerships and Programs, College of Veterinary Medicine Assistant Professor, Veterinary Population Medicine University of Minnesota

-William D. Marler, Esq. Marler Clark, The Food Safety Law Firm

-J. Glenn Morris, M.D., Director, Emerging Pathogens Institute University of Florida

-Michael Rodemeyer, Lecturer, Department of Science, Technology and Society University of Virginia, Former Executive Director, Pew Initiative on Food and Biotechnology

-Donald W. Schaffner, Ph.D., Extension Specialist in Food Science and Professor Director of the Center for Advanced Food Technology Rutgers University

-Deirdre Schlunegger Chief Executive Officer STOP Foodborne Illness

-Carol L. Tucker‐Foreman, Distinguished Fellow, The Food Policy Institute Consumer 

Federation of America, Former Assistant Secretary of Agriculture

On the other side, Atlanta’ s Frederick Ravid is the author of the petition calling for Taylor’s removal.  He posted it on SignOn.org in August.  MoveOn sent it out on Feb. 6 to its five million members, spiking sign-ups.

Taylor’s supporters have pointed out that Ravid ‘s claims that biotech foods contribute to various types of cancers are without scientific merit.

Taylor has removed himself from making any policies having to do with GE foods.

© Food Safety News
  • C

    He worked for Monsanto. He left and worked for the government. He opposes E-Coli. Who doesn’t? The fact that he doesn’t raise one??? About GMO’s means he still works for Monsanto.

  • Granted, his stint with Monsanto may be a black spot on his resume, for which he wisely is distancing himself from policies covering GM foods.
    Nevertheless, the most substantial point I see in the article above is Mr. Taylor’s attempt to transform FDA from a reactive agency to a proactive agency focused on PREVENTION, hopefully to prevent food from becoming contaminated in the first place. This new focus simply cannot be praised too highly. The two top FSIS officials, Under Sec Dr. Elisabeth Hagen & Administrator Al Almanza have emphatically embraced the same goal of Prevention, rather than Reaction.
    I find it unfathomable that FDA & USDA, after being in existence for decades, are only now developing the courage to embrace Prevention at the SOURCE! I tip my hat to these 3 remarkable officials, who are willing to boldly oppose institutionalized opposition from lifer bureaucrats within their agencies who have historically placed all pathogen liability against the victimized downstream entities which innocently inherited food laced with invisible microbes. Instead of chastizing the ostensibly lazy and negligent consumers, restaurants, retailers (such as Hannaford), and further processing meat plants, Dr’s Taylor & Hagen and Mr. Almanza are wisely defining food safety progress to include tough scrutiny at the SOURCE, a novel idea within government circles.
    Will Dr’s Taylor & Hagen, and Administrator Alamanza successfully place primary accountability at the SOURCE? I am not the least bit optimistic. They face opposition not only from the food industry SOURCES, but also from their own agency staffers, who have been comfortably ensconced on their lees too long, and will steadfastly resist common sense (& long overdue) changes.
    John Munsell

  • doc raymond

    Taylor declared E coli O157:H7 to be an adulterant in ground beef after the Jack in the Box outbreak when he was Acting Assistent Secretary of Agriculture, now termed the Undersecretary for Food Safety at the USDA. He never received Senate confirmation because of his brave action and the industry’s dislike of his declaration. For that alone he receives better than the call for his removal and the smears that accompany it. The petition claims Monsanto and GE foods are a root cause of breast and colon cancer in this country, a claim not only supported by science, but ridiculous in light of the declining rate of those two cancers in the US over the last two decades. I have said it before in my blogs:
    Mike Taylor is my Hero.

  • Granted, his stint with Monsanto may be a black spot on his resume, for which he wisely is distancing himself from policies covering GM foods.
    Nevertheless, the most substantial point I see in the article above is Mr. Taylor’s attempt to transform FDA from a reactive agency to a proactive agency focused on PREVENTION, hopefully to prevent food from becoming contaminated in the first place. This new focus simply cannot be praised too highly. The two top FSIS officials, Under Sec Dr. Elisabeth Hagen & Administrator Al Almanza have emphatically embraced the same goal of Prevention, rather than Reaction.
    I find it unfathomable that FDA & USDA, after being in existence for decades, are only now developing the courage to embrace Prevention at the SOURCE! I tip my hat to these 3 remarkable officials, who are willing to boldly oppose institutionalized opposition from lifer bureaucrats within their agencies who have historically placed all pathogen liability against the victimized downstream entities which innocently inherited food laced with invisible microbes. Instead of chastizing the ostensibly lazy and negligent consumers, restaurants, retailers (such as Hannaford), and further processing meat plants, Dr’s Taylor & Hagen and Mr. Almanza are wisely defining food safety progress to include tough scrutiny at the SOURCE, a novel idea within government circles.
    Will Dr’s Taylor & Hagen, and Administrator Alamanza successfully place primary accountability at the SOURCE? I am not the least bit optimistic. They face opposition not only from the food industry SOURCES, but also from their own agency staffers, who have been comfortably ensconced on their lees too long, and will steadfastly resist common sense (& long overdue) changes.
    John Munsell

  • Steve

    Actually, Mr Taylor has a much greater involvement as a Monsanto operative than reported in Dan’s story.
    Here’s wider look at his career path:
    In the late 1980’s lawyer Michael Taylor began his career as a legal advisor to the Commissioner of FDA. He then moved to a private-sector law firm representing Monsanto. In 1991 he returned to the FDA as Deputy Commissioner for Policy, where he was part of the team that issued the agency’s industry-friendly policy on food biotechnology and that approved the use of Monsanto’s genetically engineered growth hormone in dairy cows. In 1994 he revolved back to the law firm leading a group a lawyers representing Monsanto. Then he moved to USDA to become administrator of its Food Safety and Inspection Service.
    After another stint in private legal practice, Mr. Taylor again joined Monsanto as Vice President for Public Policy in 1998 ( as Monsanto’s chief lobbyist to work his former colleagues at USDA and FDA, as well as Congress). Then he went back to being a Monsanto lawyer and in 2010 was appointed Deputy Commissioner in charge of food safety at FDA…
    This is not an insignificant corporate resume. Mr taylor has become the poster child for the revolving door between corporations and government regulatory agencies. With corporate influence in government arguably at an all time high, questions of conflict of interest are rightfully front and center.
    One major question that arises now that Mr Taylor is currently in place as the head of food safety at FDA and in charge of the Food safety Modernization Act implementation process — is how will the non-independently tested novel transgenes created by Monsanto and the Biotech Industry be treated in the microbial regulation process?
    Also, it’s apparent that Dan doesn’t care much for the Move On folks — but according to this story in USA today the petition was started by an individual and only recently buttressed by MoveOn.org:
    : “Petition targets FDA’s deputy commissioner for foods”
    http://yourlife.usatoday.com/fitness-food/safety/story/2012-02-17/Petition-targets-FDAs-deputy-commissioner-for-foods/53134650/1
    “The original anti-Taylor petition was posted in August by Frederick Ravid of Atlanta. He used the free site SignOn.org, which allows anyone to create an online petition… Ravid’s petition got a big push on Feb. 6 when MoveOn, a liberal political action group, picked it up and sent it out to its list of over 5 million members, says MoveOn’s Steven Biel. “This is one of the most strongly viral petitions we’ve seen in a long time. He got over 200,000 signatures entirely on his own with no organizational backing before we jumped on it.” As of Friday (2/17), the petition had received 413,013 online signatures.”