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.