Michael Taylor

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In July 2009 US President Barack Obama appointed former Monsanto lobbyist and attorney Michael R. Taylor as a senior adviser to the US FDA (Food and Drug Administration).

Commenting on his appointment in an otherwise positive article about Taylor's new position, Marion Nestle, Paulette Goddard Professor in the Department of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health, said:

he's the first person whose name is mentioned when anyone talks about the "revolving door" between the food industry and government.[1]

Nestle was referring to Taylor's movements between Monsanto and the US FDA. Here is a summary of Taylor's career by blogger Jill Richardson, writing in the Daily Kos:[2]

Taylor previously worked at the USDA from 1976-1981 as a staff lawyer. He left government to work at King & Spaulding, a law firm representing Monsanto.
He returned to government - this time to the FDA - for a stint as Deputy Commissioner for Policy from 1991-1994. According to Marion Nestle in Food Politics:
[At the FDA] 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, he moved over to the USDA's Food Safety & Inspection Service to serve as Administrator until 1996. Then it was back to King & Spaulding for a little bit, and - in 1998 - over to Monsanto, where he was a senior lobbyist (Vice President for Public Policy).
Most recently, beginning in 2000, he was a fellow for Resources for the Future, serving as Research Professor Of Health Policy at George Washington University.[3] ... Resources for Our Future is quite corporate funded, with members of its Board of Directors from BP, Chevron, and DuPont [and Rio Tinto, American Electric Power Company, Warburg Pincus, and the Ford Foundation - SpinProfiles ed.].[4]
And now he's back at the FDA.

"Substantial equivalance" of GM food

Obama's appointment marks Taylor's second tenure at the FDA. His previous tenure at the agency saw the formulation of its doctrine of substantial equivalence, which was published in a 1992 Federal Register notice for which he was responsible.[5] Substantial equivalence provides the basis for the non-regulation of genetically modified (GM) foods. It assumes that a GM food is the same as its non-GM counterpart and therefore requires no special testing. It is a lawyer's and spin doctor's concept (Taylor is a lawyer and a lobbyist), with no scientific basis. As such, it has come under repeated criticism from scientists and experts independent of the industry.[6][7] Where detailed testing has been done, GM foods have been found to be different from their non-GM equivalents and to have different biological effects.[8]

The Royal Society of Canada described substantial equivalence as “scientifically unjustifiable and inconsistent with precautionary regulation of the technology.”[9]

Substantial equivalence is viewed by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, World Health Organisation and Codex Alimentarius differently from the FDA. These bodies, unlike the FDA, emphasize that safety assessment of GMOs must be focused on establishing the safety of the differences in the new product such that the safety of the food can be established.[10]

In 2001 the European Union (EU) abandoned the doctrine of substantial equivalence, opting for more stringent scientific risk assessment. As a result of this doctrine, the FDA has never substantiated the material facts of GM foods and food safety, such as testing their safety. The FDA has always asserted as a result of this policy that validated testing methods are not currently available.[11]

Bovine growth hormone

Taylor played a key role in getting Monsanto's dairy cattle drug, the genetically engineered bovine growth hormone, rBGH or rBST, approved by the FDA for the marketplace in spite of scientists' and veterinarians' concerns about its safety.[12] In the US, dairy products from cows treated with the drug do not have to be labeled as such; in fact, Monsanto has fought against such labeling in the courts.[13] The drug is banned in Canada, the EU, Japan, Australia, and New Zealand.[14]

The FDA even promoted the drug, according to Jennifer Ferrara, writing in The Ecologist. Ferrara notes: "two FDA researchers published industry and 'independent' data in the journal Science in 1990 to show that rBGH was safe for consumers".[15]

The following is an excerpt from Ferrara's article in the Monsanto special edition of The Ecologist, which in the fall of 1998 was pulped by the magazine's regular printers because they allegedly feared a lawsuit from Monsanto. Ferrara details Taylor's role in the rBGH saga:

The FDA's pro-rBGH activities make more sense in light of conflicts of interest between the FDA and the Monsanto corporation. Michael R. Taylor, the FDA's deputy commissioner for policy, wrote the FDA's rBGH labelling guidelines. The guidelines, announced in February 1994, virtually prohibited dairy corporations from making any real distinction between products produced with and without rBGH. To keep rBGH-milk from being "stigmatized" in the marketplace, the FDA announced that labels on non-rBGH products must state that there is no difference between rBGH and the naturally occurring hormone.
In March 1994, Taylor was publicly exposed as a former lawyer for the Monsanto corporation for seven years. While working for Monsanto, Taylor had prepared a memo for the company as to whether or not it would be constitutional for states to erect labelling laws concerning rBGH dairy products. In other words. Taylor helped Monsanto figure out whether or not the corporation could sue states or companies that wanted to tell the public that their products were free of Monsanto's drug.
Taylor wasn't the only FDA official involved in rBGI-1 policy who had worked for Monsanto. Margaret Miller, deputy director of the FDA's Office of New Animal Drugs was a former Monsanto research scientist who had worked on Monsanto's rBGH safety studies up until 1989. Suzanne Sechen was a primary reviewer for rBGH in the Office of New Animal Drugs between 1988 and 1990. Before coming to the FDA. she had done research for several Monsanto-funded rBGH studies as a graduate student at Cornell University. Her professor was one of Monsanto's university consultants and a known rBGH promoter.
Remarkably, the GAO determined in a 1994 investigation that these officials' former association with the Monsanto corporation did not pose a conflict of interest. But for those concerned about the health and environmental hazards of genetic engineering, the revolving door between the biotechnology industry and federal regulating agencies is a serious cause for concern.[16]


The following is Tom Philpott's commentary on the appointment of Taylor, in GRIST.[17]

Monsanto's man Taylor returns to FDA in food-czar role

by Tom Philpott

GRIST, 8 July 2009 (Excerpt)

Taylor's new position isn't his first in government. He's a veteran apparatchik who has made an art of the role-swapping dance between the food industry and the agencies that regulate it. (The FDA's press release highlights his government service while delicately omitting his Monsanto dal[l]iances.) In her 2002 book Food Politics, the nutritionist and food-industry critic Marion Nestle describes him like this (quote courtesy of La Vida Locavore):

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.

"Vice president for public policy" means, of course, chief lobbyist. Monsanto had hired him to keep his former colleagues at USDA and FDA, as well as Congress folk, up to date on the wonders of patent-protected seed biotechnology.

"Since 2000," the FDA press release informs us, "Taylor has worked in academic and research settings on the challenges facing the nation's food safety system and ways to address them."

Watchdog in flack's clothing?

And somewhere along the away, according to his erstwhile critic Nestle, Taylor had a moment like Saul's on the road to Damascus: the one-time company man suddenly became a valorous industry watchdog. In a surprising blog post Tuesday, Nestle declared Taylor "a good pick" for the FDA. "I say this in full knowledge of his history," Nestle wrote. Here's her rationale:

Watch what happened when he moved to USDA in 1994 as head of its Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS). Just six weeks after taking the job, Mr. Taylor gave his first public speech to an annual convention of the American Meat Institute. There, he announced that USDA would now be driven by public health goals as much or more than by productivity concerns. The USDA would soon require science-based HACCP systems in every meat and poultry plant, would be testing raw ground beef, and would require contaminated meat to be destroyed or reprocessed. And because E. coli O157.H7 is infectious at very low doses, the USDA would consider any level of contamination of ground beef with these bacteria to be unsafe, adulterated, and subject to enforcement action. Whew. This took real courage.

Nestle goes on to report that Taylor, after serving a stint as Monsanto’s chief lobbyist, became a kind of food-safety intellectual, issuing wise papers on how the regulators should oversee food companies. She points us to an "excellent report" [PDF] co-written by Taylor, released this year.

That paper must be read carefully: Given Taylor’s new status, it—along with new guidelines released by the White House Food Safety Working on Tuesday—will likely serve as a kind of blueprint for the Obama FDA food oversight.

Two things jump out immediately from Taylor's paper. First, it amounts to a forceful push to shift much more of the burden for funding food-safety operations to the state and local level. Its very title is "An Agenda for Strengthening State and Local Roles in the Nation's Food Safety System." The paper promotes a "Joint Funding Responsibility" between federal and local/state agencies.

Why is this a problem? For one, state and local budgets are parched dry, drained by the most severe economic downturn since the Depression. Is, say, California now going to fund a robust food-safety platform—with IOUs, perhaps?

Moreover, we've seen the sort of federal-state partnership Taylor promotes in action—and there have been spectacular failures. Remember the great peanut-butter calamity of 2008-'09, the one that killed at least seven people and sickened hundreds? In that case, the FDA had farmed out inspections of the ofending factory to Georgia authorities, who dutifully documented atrocious sanitary lapses even as tainted product got distributed nationwide.

The other immediate problem with Taylor’s blueprint relates to scale. A sane food-safety policy would do two things: 1) rein in the gigantic companies that routinely endanger millions with a single lapse at a single plant—say, a gigantic beef company that can send out 420,000 pounds of E. coli-tainted beef from a day’s processing; and 2) do so in a way that doesn’t harm the thousands of small-scale, community-oriented operations rising up in new alternative food systems.

Again and again, we’ve seen regulations designed to rein in big players actually consolidate their market power by wiping out small players. As a recent Food & Water Watch report showed, regulations that make sense for industrial slaughterhouses can spell the end for community- and regional-scale ones. The Taylor report only addresses this critical point once in its 80 pages: "Due regard should be given to making the traceback requirement feasible for small businesses." Clearly, the small-scale producer issue isn’t a priority for Monsanto’s man at FDA.

A technocrat's tinkering

With the widely respected Marion Nestle throwing her support behind the Taylor pick, I went looking for other perspectives. I asked Patty Lovera, assistant director of Food & Water Watch, for her take. FWW has been actively working to promote a scale-appropriate food-safety regime that checks Big Food without crushing small producers.

Lovera does not share Nestle's enthusiasm. "Taylor basically promotes a risk-based approach, and we don’t think that’s adequate," she told me. Lovera explained that in a risk-based approach, regulators focus limited resources on areas of the food system that pose the most risk. Sounds logical, she said, but it's proven difficult to predict where risk factors really lie. I asked her if the peanut-butter debacle was a good example. Who would have foreseen multiple deaths from a factory that produces peanut paste for processed food manufacturers? She concurred. She added that the USDA's FSIS program, which oversees meat safety, has largely failed in a 10-year effort to identify the riskiest parts of the meat-production process.

Then there's the emphasis on what Nestle praised in her blog post as "science-based HACCP systems." HACCP stands for "hazard analysis and critical control point." In an HACCP system, you identify the points in a process that pose the most risk and "fix" the problem.

"That approach is really geared to techno fixes," Lovera told me — stuff like ammonia washes, irradiation, etc. These procedures don't seek to, say, keep salmonella-tainted peanut butter out of cookies, but rather to make salmonella-exposed cookies safe to eat. Moreover, the HACCP approach "hasn't proven friendly to small producers," she adds. To see the Obama FDA appear to embrace it, she told me, "makes us cringe." In the end, the food safety system doesn't just need to tinker with the use of scarce resources, leveraged by increasing the burden on states and localities. It needs to devote more resources to actual inspections.

As for Taylor, here's my take: Despite massive marketing budgets, the food industry has become widely distrusted over the last several years, with high-profile outbreaks a major reason. "Consumers are increasingly wary of the safety of food purchased at grocery stores," declares a recent study. "And their confidence in—and trust of—food retailers, manufacturers and grocers is declining."

The industry knows it needs an improved safety system; technocrats like Taylor can deliver a marginally improved food safety system while preserving profit margins and market share.

Perhaps the FDA's new food czar can save some lives—I hope he does. It’s abominable when people die from eating pre-fab peanut butter cookie or salad from a bag. Taylor’s tinkerings could well reduce such disasters.

But what we really need is a food safety system that takes the shit out of industrial meat and the salmonella out of peanut butter, without dumping on small producers. And I don’t think Taylor will deliver that — or even try.

GM and Africa

Isabella Kenfield, writing in CounterPunch, says that what has slipped under everyone’s radar screen is Taylor’s involvement in setting US policy on agricultural assistance in Africa:

In collusion with the Rockefeller and Bill and Melinda Gates Foundations, Taylor is once again the go-between man for Monsanto and the U.S. government, this time with the goal to open up African markets for genetically-modified (GM) seed and agrochemicals. ...
Taylor’s re-appointment to the FDA came just after Obama and the other G-8 leaders pledged $20 billion to fight hunger in Africa over the next three years. “President Obama is currently embedded in a bubble featuring some of the fervent promoters of the biotech industry and a Green Revolution in Africa,” says Paula Crossfield in the Huffington Post. Before joining Obama's transition team, Taylor was a Senior Fellow at the D.C. think tank Resources for the Future, where he published two documents on U.S. aid for African agriculture, both of which were funded by the Rockefeller Foundation.[18]

E. coli contamination

In 1994 Taylor was instrumental in getting the pathogenic strain of bacterium E.coli 0157:H7 classified by the USDA Food Safety Inspection Service as an adulterant in raw ground beef. The new legislation mandated that all slaughter and processing plants implement a modern preventive control system called HACCP (Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points), and established for the first time microbial test requirements and pathogen reduction performance standards.[19] This was greeted by some commentators, including the consumer advocate Marion Nestle, as a remarkable step forward in food safety. Nestle called it "a truly heroic accomplishment".[20]

Taylor later commented on the development that he implemented as follows:

Prior to 1994, the official position of the Department of Agriculture was that slaughter houses and plants processing raw meat were not responsible or accountable for pathogen contamination, on the ground that consumers were expected to properly cook the product.[21]

Prior to 1994, meat that had detectable levels of E. coli 0157:H7 could not be recalled until human illness was detected, as is still the case with Salmonella. Now, any detection of E. coli 0157:H7 means that the meat gets recalled; consumers don’t have to wait for the bodies to appear.

E. coli and irradiation lobby

Thus far, Taylor's new legislation may be called a victory for the consumer. The same cannot be said for the likely food industry "solutions" to the unwanted and now illegal presence of E. coli 0157:H7 in food. The classification of E. coli 0157:H7 as an adulterant will undoubtedly give ammunition to lobbyists pushing for the irradiation of meat. For example, the public injury attorney William Marler commented in testimony to the Committee on Energy and Commerce:

the nation requires education about the benefits of irradiation of all mass-produced food including produce. Resistance to this practice seems to be rooted in public perception, not science.[22]

Irradiation kills such bacteria, though it does not address the problem of toxic byproducts created by bacteria and raises food safety questions of its own.[23]

Strangely, Marler also takes the opportunity to blame cases of E. coli 0157:H7 infection on nature:

The well-intentioned but scientifically questionable use of “environmental-friendly practices” [sic.] such as recycled water and planting native grasses.[24]

Not surprisingly, the Centers for Disease Control's web page on E. coli does not mention such “environmental-friendly practices” [sic.] as risk factors. As might be expected, it identifies exposures that result in illness as including

consumption of contaminated food, consumption of unpasteurized (raw) milk, consumption of water that has not been disinfected, contact with cattle, or contact with the feces of infected people.[25]

Nanotechnology in food production

On the issue of nanotechnology (the science of matter at the molecular and atomic levels), Taylor gave testimony to the FDA Nanotechnology Public Meeting (2008) on food-related aspects and the regulatory issues raised by nanoparticles.

Nanoparticles are extremely small particles that are increasingly being used in food, packaging, and cosmetics production. Because of their very small size, there are concerns that they may be able to enter the systems of living organisms, bypassing the normal safety barriers of the immune system. They are not regulated at present, even though scientists have warned that they may present unique risks.[26][27]

Taylor argues that nanoparticles should be recognized as new and should undergo mandatory safety assessment,[28] something that FDA has not supported. FDA states its position on its website:

FDA regulates products based on their statutory classification rather than the technology they employ, FDA’s regulatory consideration of an application involving a nanotechnology product may not occur until well after the initial development of that nanotechnology.
Because FDA has limited regulatory authority over certain categories of products, the Agency may have limited authority over the use of nanotechnology related to those products. For example, there is no premarket approval of cosmetic products or their ingredients, with the exception of color additives.[29]

Official biography

The following is Taylor's official biography on the RESOLVE website:[30]

Mike Taylor is a research professor at the George Washington University School of Public Health and Health Services. His public health research agenda focuses on policy, resource, and institutional issues that affect the success of public health agencies in carrying out their prevention missions. He co-founded and chairs the Steering Committee of the Food Safety Research Consortium, a multi-disciplinary collaborative effort among seven research institutions to improve food safety priority setting and decision-making.
Mr. Taylor is also a senior fellow with the Partnership to Cut Hunger and Poverty in Africa and conducts research on policies of the United States and developments in Africa that affect agriculture-led economic growth and poverty reduction. Prior to joining the GW faculty, Mr. Taylor was a professor at the University of Maryland's School of Medicine and before that a senior fellow at Resources for the Future, a non-profit public policy research organization.
Mr. Taylor has served in government as Administrator of USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service (1994-1996), Deputy Commissioner for Policy at the Food and Drug Administration (1991-1994), and FDA staff lawyer and Executive Assistant to the FDA Commissioner (1976-1981). In the private sector, he established and led the food and drug law practice at King & Spalding and was Vice President for Public Policy at Monsanto Company.
Mr. Taylor is currently a member of an NAS committee that is studying decision-making under uncertainty for the Environmental Protection Agency and recently co-chaired an NAS committee that conducted an EPA-sponsored study on human testing of pesticides and other EPA-regulated substances. He is a board member of Resolve, Inc. and the Alliance to End Hunger.
Mr. Taylor received his law degree from the University of Virginia and his B.A. in political science from Davidson College.






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