Michael Taylor at FDA: Another Fox Guarding the Henhouse?

Article by Reid Mukai, CAGJ Co-Chair
On January 13, Michael Taylor was officially named deputy commissioner for foods, making him in effect the Food and Drug Administration’s new food safety czar. Last July Taylor was appointed as senior adviser to FDA commissioner Margaret Hamburg, but that wasn’t his first job in government. His long “revolving door” path began as counsel to the FDA before moving to King & Spalding, a private-sector law firm representing Monsanto. In 1991 he returned to the FDA as Deputy Commissioner for Policy and three years later became an administrator of the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service. After another stint with King & Spalding he returned to Monsanto as Vice President for Public Policy in 1998 serving as their chief lobbyist. Throughout Michael Taylor’s career working for Monsanto and within the government food policy bureaucracy, Taylor has played a key role in getting genetically modified organisms (GMOs) approved for release into our food supply (despite having access to early research showing potential health risks associated with GMOs) in addition to bovine growth hormones (rbGH/rbST). Bovine growth hormones are banned in Canada, Japan, Australia, New Zealand and the European Union but were approved in the US largely thanks to Taylor’s efforts. Monsanto’s own research from 1987 showed a link between rBGH milk and increased risk of breast cancer and according to a European Union scientific commission, use of rBST substantially increased health problems with cows.

Just prior to joining Obama’s transition team last year, 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. These papers were funded by The Rockefeller Foundation who also financed the first Green Revolution in Asia and Latin America in the 1960s, and in 2006 teamed up with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to launch the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA). Not surprisingly, Taylor’s recommendations included a “market-oriented approach and the promotion of thriving agribusinesses”, “applied agricultural research”, “markets for agricultural inputs and outputs” and increased agricultural export capacity. So what’s wrong with a second Green Revolution in Africa? As pointed out by Paula Crossfield in the Huffington Post, “…there is broad consensus that the Green Revolution in India has been a failure, with Indian farmers in debt, bound to paying high costs for seed and pesticides, committing suicide at much higher rates, and resulting in a depleted water table and a poisoned environment, and by extension, higher rates of cancer.” So the Green Revolution hasn’t been very helpful to farmers, but it has been extremely profitable for corporations such as Monsanto.

Michael Taylor’s appointment to FDA food safety czar is the second major setback for food activists from the Obama administration, following their choice of Tom Vilsack for Secretary of Agriculture. Vilsack is also a proponent of the biotech industry and is famous for taking rides on jets provided by Monsanto while serving as governor of Iowa. One could speculate that Michael Taylor realizes his past mistakes and will seek redemption by maintaining the highest level of food safety standards in his new role, but, given his track record, would you trust him?

Update: On January 21 the US Supreme Court eliminated all limits to corporate campaign spending and reversed the McCain Feingold law preventing corporations and unions from running ads within a certain date before elections. This ruling further reinforces the power of corporations to influence elections and to ensure that elected officials continue giving us more corporate-friendly legislation and corporate-friendly appointees.


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