Food Safety News loves Michael Taylor – me, not so much

Scanning through my inbox this morning, I found a Food Safety News article of the author’s “naughty and nice” list for 2011. Given the mandate of the publication, it’s not too surprising that the list contains people who, in the author’s opinion, deserve mention – good or bad – concerning their support of the safety of our food supply, or their negative impact on it.

Just goes to show, I guess, how looking through the narrow lens of one topic can skew the results. Here’s the glowing review of “Mike” Taylor:

Mike Taylor
, deputy Food and Drug Administration commissioner for food, is this administration’s go-to guy for information on the FDA’s implementation of the new Food Safety Modernization Act. The access and insights he’s provided in 2011 would be enough alone to put him on the Nice List.

However, it was the release of his oral history and interview with Food Safety News, about his past government service when he was administrator of USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service during the Clinton Administration, that won our appreciation. He recalled the events surrounding his decision to first ban O157 from meat in 1994 — which he announced at a meeting of the American Meat Institute. Nice Mike!

Excuse me?
Michael Taylor
This is high praise indeed for the one individual who is the virtual poster child for the revolving door between private industry and the government oversight agencies who regulate them. Specifically, in the case of “Mike” Taylor, between Monsanto and FDA. From Food Politics:
“Mr. Taylor is a lawyer who began his revolving door adventures as counsel to FDA. He then moved to King & Spalding, a private-sector law firm representing Monsanto, a leading agricultural biotechnology company. In 1991 he returned to the FDA as Deputy Commissioner for Policy, where he was part of the team that issued the agency’s decidedly industry-friendly policy on food biotechnology and that approved the use of Monsanto’s genetically engineered growth hormone in dairy cows. His questionable role in these decisions led to an investigation by the federal General Accounting Office, which eventually exonerated him of all conflict-of-interest charges. In 1994, Mr. Taylor moved to USDA to become administrator of its Food Safety and Inspection Service… After another stint in private legal practice with King & Spalding, Mr. Taylor again joined Monsanto as Vice President for Public Policy in 1998.”
He returned to government service in 2009 with President Obama’s transition team, as senior adviser to newly appointed FDA commissioner Margaret Hamburg. In 2010, he was appointed FDA’s Deputy Commissioner for Foods, in which position he remains.
So, let’s see. In charge of approving policy regulating the company he’s worked for more than once, check. Approved bovine growth hormone (rBGH, patented by Monsanto), check. Booster of genetically modified organisms (in which Monsanto is an industry leader), check. Good for him that he labelled eColi 0157 as a bad bug. No, really. Glad he’s done something positive in what looks to me like a rather checkered career.
But a hero in food safety? Clearly it all depends on how you define “safety.” And “hero.”
So congrats to Mike, and his warm kudos from Food Safety News. But shame on the author of the article for ignoring Taylor’s full history to only focus on the items he found praiseworthy. This does the awards process – not to mention food safety – a huge disservice.

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