The Scoop: Michael Taylor, FDA’s First Deputy Commissioner For Foods

By Nancy Maddox, MPH

The new Food and Drug Administration (FDA) post, deputy commissioner for foods (DCF), was created to help fulfill President Obama’s pledge to strengthen food safety in the wake of a number of multi-state outbreaks that have made Americans wary of the food-industrial complex.

According to an FDA press release, the deputy commissioner will:

• Help the agency plan and implement a “prevention-based strategy for food safety.”
• Implement new food safety legislation being crafted in Congress that will almost certainly expand FDA oversight authority.
• Ensure accurate nutritional information on food labels.

The first person to hold this post, Michael Taylor, has received mixed reviews from the blogosphere owing his industrial ties. Taylor has been in and out of government service, mixing work at the FDA and U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) with a “public policy” (a.k.a. lobbying) position at Monsanto, a position at a law firm representing Monsanto, a stint at a think tank (Resources for the Future) and a research and teaching position at the George Washington University (GWU) School of Public Health and Health Services.

The Washington Post reports that Taylor was responsible for unpopular federal safety regulations impacting producers of seafood, juices, meat and poultry. But during his FDA tenure, the agency approved Monsanto’s bovine growth hormone, declared that milk producers have no requirement to disclose BGH use, and issued a policy stating that genetically-engineered plant varieties (such as those produced by Monsanto) require no special agency oversight.

Most recently, as a senior FDA advisor, Taylor tried to ban the sale of warm-water oysters harvested between April and October, unless treated to kill Vibrio vulnificus. Faced with opposition from Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA) and others, the agency has agreed to postpone a ban and study the issue further.

Noted nutritionist Marion Nestle, a professor at New York University, considers Taylor a good choice. She points out that as head of the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service, he required science-based hazard analysis and critical control point (HACCP) systems in every meat and poultry plant—a move that took “real courage.”

Nestle also applauds “Stronger Partnerships for Safer Food: An Agenda for Strengthening State and Local Roles in the Nation’s Food Safety System,” a report Taylor co-authored while at GWU in collaboration with the Association of Food and Drug Officials, the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials and the National Association of County and City Health Officials.

The report endorses many APHL food safety priorities, including implementation of guidelines produced by the Council to Improve Foodborne Outbreak Response (CIFOR), of which APHL is a member.

Among other things, the report calls for more uniform laboratory methods for food safety testing, increased funding for FoodNet, greater multi-disciplinary collaboration in food safety investigations and greater federal investment—specifically in the form of a food safety block grant and federal matching grant program—to build the capacity of state and local food safety programs and “foster improvement and innovation beyond base capacity building.”

APHL wishes the new commissioner the best of luck and looks forward to working with him to advance many of these goals.

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