Special Digest, rumor version: Mike Taylor to Join FDA

taylordoorAnother round for the revolving door: Rumor has it that Mike Taylor, currently a professor at George Washington University but better known for his work as Monsanto’s Vice President for Public Policy, will start on Monday at the FDA in a position coordinating food safety.

Congress is considering a major food safety bill —  more info here — and the scuttlebutt is that Taylor might coordinate the implementation of that bill once it’s passed. It’s not clear whether Taylor will be employed by the agency or will work on contract. Not that it really matters.

If ever there were a poster boy for revolving door, Taylor would be him. In the late 1980s, he left a job at the FDA to work as a lawyer and lobbyist for a company representing biotech giant Monsanto. He’s perhaps best known for his role in Monsanto’s campaign to approve rBGH, a controversial artificial growth hormone given to cows to increase milk production. Taylor sauntered over to the FDA shortly after rBGH was approved for commercial use, where he oversaw the development of guidelines for rBGH milk labeling. Or rather, saw that they were never developed: Milk from rBGH-treated cows does not have to be labeled.

Then it was on to the USDA, back to the private law firm, and over to Monsanto’s DC offices, where he worked until joining GWU. Taylor was named to Obama's ag transition team late last year, which critics (including us) saw as a boon for the GMO lobby.

Taylor has been riding the revolving door like it's a carousel so long that Jim Hightower’s 1994 rant about the man sounds positively present-day.

What could this mean for food safety? Perhaps the only good news is that the FDA doesn’t regulate meat; Taylor is on the record opposing government inspection of meat processing facilities. (See this La Vida Locavore post for more info.) But with his hands in FDA pie, we’re guessing that agency’s food work won’t be too safe, either. The agency will soon be considering whether and how to regulate food safety on farms, whether to require electronic tracking of food from farm to retailer, and other questions that could spell disaster for small producers and local food systems if they’re answered incorrectly.  Will Taylor push for tech-heavy fixes that bias the system towards the big guys?

Our money’s on yes.

2 Responsesto “Special Digest, rumor version: Mike Taylor to Join FDA”

  1. Doug Ancil says:

    Marion Nestle did a little piece about Mr. Tayl0r on her blog yesterday Food Politics. I have to say that I agree with her that if we can keep Mr. Taylors feet to the fire that we have to do so. After reading all of the sweeping reform that the Obama administration wants to handle as part of the FDA, it seems like they have their work cut out for them and if we dont see an improvement, we can then start to look around as to who is to blame.  Come Join the discussion on http://mindofamediajunkie.blogspot.com/

  2. Here's an interesting contrast: the well-known Marion Nestle endorses Michael Taylor's appointment to the FDA.

    By email, she pointed me to some references which I will look up to confirm them. It seems that the anti-GE message that Michael Taylor is a revolving-door 'poster boy' has been leaving out some important information. For instance, that he recused himself from decision-making with regard to Monsanto's BGH approval.

    I'll leave you with Nestle's conclusion:

    Yes, he revolved back to Monsanto after leaving FDA but he didn’t stay long. He left Monsanto for Resources for the Future, a think tank on policy issues.   In 2007, he went to academia and joined the food policy think tank (see his bio) at George Washington University.  There, he produced the excellent food safety report I mentioned in a previous post, which repeats these points. This is about as good a position on food safety as can be expected of any federal official.