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.