The “public calendar” that discloses meetings U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) policy makers have with persons outside the executive branch of government is a little slow in taking shape this year.
About 20 top FDA officials, from Commissioner Margaret Hamburg on down to the heads of the agency’s major units, eventually report with whom they’ve been meeting. However, as of this date, FDA has only made calendars available for the first nine weeks of 2012.
Top officials at FDA have duties spanning across drugs, medical devices, and food, meaning most of the reported meetings do not have anything to do with food safety.
Unless, it’s the calendar for Michael Taylor, the Deputy Commissioner for Foods, and the man in charge of implementing the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) that was signed into law by President Obama almost a year and half ago.
The White House, specifically the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), has held up Taylor’s progress of late. It has been sitting on the four rules needed to move ahead with FSMA: produce safety standards, preventive controls for human food, preventive controls for animal food, and foreign supplier verification.
Taylor’s meetings during the first nine weeks of this year with almost entirely focused on food safety and kick-starting FSMA. He’s juggled meetings with high-priced food company lobbyists and publicity conscious consumer advocates, sometimes within minutes of one another. He’s also been working with foreign governments and food safety officials from around the world, helping them understand what the new U.S. law will mean to them.
During the first week of the year, Taylor did three conference calls with Wal-Mart’s Frank Yiannas and Cargill’s Mike Robach; then with Sarah Geisert from General Mills, and third with Pew Foundation’s Carolyn Brickey.
Taylor reported no significant meetings during the second week of January, but on Jan. 17 he met with Pam Bailey and Leon Bruner, both with Grocery Manufacturers Association. FSMA was again the listed subject of the meeting.
January’s final week found Taylor on the road, hitting the conference circuit. He spoke to the United Fresh Leadership in San Diego on Jan. 25, and then went cross-country to Orlando for the Grocery Manufacturers Association meetings in Orlando.
No other FDA official reported having any meetings during January involving food safety.
The first week of February found Taylor again meeting with Wal-Mart’s Yiannas and Cargill’s Robach, but this time their status as executive board members of the Global Food Safety Initiative is listed on the calendar. The meeting was a teleconference, also on FSMA.
On Feb. 8, Dr. Jesse Goodman, FDA‘s Chief Scientist, and Taylor meet with “several representatives” from the Alliance for a Stronger FDA. The calendar listed “food safety legislation” as subject, but it almost certainly was a strategy session on congressional funding of FDA’s budget.
A day earlier, Taylor met with the politically savvy Caroline Smith DeWaal from the Center for Science in the Public Interest. He also reports meeting the “Council of Association Presidents” on Feb. 10 about food safety.
He ended the week with a meeting in his Sliver Spring, MD offices with representatives from the Grocery Manufacturers Association, Hogan Lovells, Cargill, ConAgra, Kraft, Nestle USA, General Mills, and McCormick & Co.
Taylor was on the road the following week, this time to Brussels and London for a series of meetings with a long list of international groups. He made his way through such international groups as the World Health Organization, the World Trade Organization, the European Union’s Mission to the U.S., the United Kingdom’s Department Health, and even a delegation from something called the Trans Atlantic Consumer Dialogue.
He also paid a visit to Tim Smith, executive director of the UK’s Food Standards Agency, which is the closest thing to FDA’s counterpart across the Atlantic. Cargill’s Robach also got some face time with Taylor in London. And he met with the Global Food Safety Initiative Board.
Returning to FDA headquarters in Silver Spring, MD, Taylor met with Christopher Waldrop from the Consumer Federation of American and Erick Olson from Pew Charitable Trusts on Feb. 25 about food safety. It may have been a preview for Taylor’s meeting three days later with about a dozen representatives of the Safe Food Coalition, which also included Waldrop and Olson.
Except for a Feb. 22 meeting with the ‘E. coli Coalition,” attended by Dr. Bernadette Dunham, director of the FDA center for veterinary medicine, no other food safety related meetings occurred during February. Taylor did not attend that meeting. It was the only food safety meeting he missed during the 9-week period.