Michael Taylor, a former vice president of public policy at Monsanto Company, is the new senior advisor for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. He will advise Margaret A. Hamburg, commissioner of food and drugs.
Taylor joined the FDA earlier this month. He will oversee planning and implementation of food safety reform at FDA, said George Strait, assistant commissioner of public affairs for the administration. The hiring marks a return to the FDA for Taylor, who worked for the FDA from 1976 to 1981 as a staff lawyer and executive assistant, and again from 1991 to 1994 as deputy commissioner for policy. Taylor also served as the administrator for U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service from 1994 to 1996.
"He was selected because of his great expertise and experience in food safety issues," Strait said. "He will be reporting directly to the commissioner as her special assistant on all food and food safety. It is a new position, created because the commissioner sees food safety as one of her highest priorities."
But some activists see Taylor's hiring as trouble.
"We're not happy to hear the news of Michael Taylor getting the (job), not only because of his well-known GMO revolving door issues that don't please us at all, but also, we have some differences of opinion in terms of government and food inspection," said Patty Lovera of Food & Water Watch, a nonprofit consumer organization.
After leaving the FDA the first time in 1981, Taylor led the food and drug law practice at King & Spalding, a Washington law firm that represented Monsanto. After leaving the USDA in 1996, he returned to that firm. Then, from October 1998 to January 2000, Taylor was vice president for public policy at Monsanto, the makers of Roundup herbicide and developers of genetically-engineered crops.
But the "revolving door" issue could prove to be of little consequence if Taylor performs responsibly, said Michael Hansen, senior scientist for Consumers Union, which is also a nonprofit consumer organization.
Taylor's signature is on the FDA policy that claims genetically engineered is simply an extension of conventional breeding and does not require safety testing, Hansen said. (In later years, Taylor seemed to reverse his stance and admitted that genetically engineered foods should go through safety testing and be labeled.)
Many organic food activists also see Taylor as the administrator responsible for the FDA's approval of the genetically modified growth hormone rbGH to be used in dairy production.
But Hansen said Taylor is "a sharp lawyer and he also did some positive things."
Most noteworthy is Taylor's determination in regard to E. coli 0157:H7. Hansen said Taylor pushed the USDA to declare it an adulterant, meaning the food fails to meet standards and can't be sold. It also established a trigger for potential recalls.
He also spearheaded the USDA's implementation of the Hazard Analysis & Critical Control Points, which provide a global way of looking at plant operations as a whole and determining where contamination can happen and taking action so those problems don't occur. HACCP is designed to ensure food safety is addressed through the analysis and control of biological, chemical, and physical hazards from raw material production, procurement and handling, to manufacturing, distribution and consumption of the finished product, according to the FDA.
"I'm willing to give him the benefit of the doubt," Hansen said. "I don't think he's Monsanto's person in FDA. Look, he's done some things that I have disagreed with in past, but his actions at the USDA and on E. coli were definitely a step forward, and what he said about new technology is a step forward, so let's give him a chance and see what he can do."