“Food safety is a continuous improvement activity,” says Mike Taylor, the outgoing deputy commissioner for foods and veterinary medicine at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
Taylor was responding to questions from Food Safety News on the day after he announced he’d be leaving government after seven years as FDA’s food safety boss.
Food safety improvements during the last 25 years have all seemed to come with Mike Taylor’s leadership. When he steps down around June 1st, it will be the second time he’s exited from government assignments.
He acknowledges taking a peek at the Washington Nationals schedule for June when the Phillies, Cubs, Mets, and Reds will all play in the Navy Yard stadium where a Nationals home run is announced by a submarine dive alarm. Afternoon baseball games are among the activities he’s given up while being responsible for the nation’s food safety.
“I do not plan on becoming a full time Nationals fan,” he says. Taylor is leaving government, not retiring. He says he’s enjoyed going to work everyday he’s been on the job at FDA.
But come June, he’ll be just another bespectacled man with graying brown hair not looking for any attention to himself during the enjoyment that only afternoon baseball can bring.
Political wonks in the early days of the Obama administration will recall when many of the scribes were counting the “Czars” who were expected to have free run from the new President over some portfolio.
Mike Taylor was said to be the “czar” for food safety.
With his appointment, the Food Safety Modernization Act was passed with bipartisan support in Congress and signed into law by President Obama.
No longer is FDA’s job responding to illnesses and deaths caused by food borne disease. The agency’s new goal in to prevent them from happening. Moving to a prevention strategy has required changes in law, regulations, rules, and most importantly— changing the bureaucratic mindset.
When we talked to Taylor, he made it clear that the FSMA implementation he led involved hundreds of FDA’s personnel. He does not see it as being about one individual or a critical moment in time, but continuous activity that will go on for years.
Taylor made FSMA implementation a participatory sport for those who are regulated by it and for the larger food safety community. He engaged some audiences early and often, and showed flexibility on some touchy issues.
And these accomplishments have come under Mike Taylor’s watch during his second stint in government. During the Clinton Administration, he worked for both FDA and the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS). He was the acting USDA under secretary for food safety charged with responding to the Jack-in-the-Box E. coli outbreak tragedy in 1993.
He’s the one who made E. coli O157:H7 an adulterant in beef to the dismay of the meat industry. Taylor transformed FSIS from a century of “poking and sniffing” carcasses to its current focus on controlling multiple pathogens with scientifically proven methods.
This is a year when its hard to feel good about politics or government. Taylor’s two stints in government, running five to seven years, show that one person can make a difference.
Finally, in the Internet and social media era, it’s difficult to call anyone out for association fallacy or simple guilt by association. Taylor deserves extra credit for having played through while a defamation campaign rained down upon him.
It’s let up some in the second term of this administration. I am not going to re-hash it here, but I do direct anyone who wants an honest scoop on all of that to a column our publisher Bill Marler wrote three years ago under the title: “Mike Taylor and the myth of Monsanto’s Man.”
As important as it was to set the record straight, it’s more important to history to understand that if we draw a straight line among major food safety accomplishment for 25 years, it crosses Mike Taylor almost every time.
It’s for that reason that I am happy we likely have not heard the last from a man who has both character and enemies, which I always like.
(To sign up for a free subscription to Food Safety News, click here.)© Food Safety News