The White House has announced the appointment of Michael R. Taylor as deputy commissioner for foods in the Food and Drug Administration. This new position is intended to correct the problems associated with diffusion of responsibility for food safety among a wide range of agencies including the FDA and the USDA. His appointment is designed to facilitate implementation of new powers granted by legislation which will allow the agency to recall suspect foods and to upgrade plans to prevent foodborne infection and contamination.
Michael Taylor is a veteran of both government and industry. His initial appointment in 1976 was as a staff lawyer in the FDA. He served as the Deputy Commissioner for Policy in 1991 and in 1994 headed the Department of Agriculture, Meat Inspection Service. Since mid-2009 he has advised FDA commissioner Dr. Margaret Hamburg.
When not in government Taylor has worked with industry including Monsanto where he was involved with issues relating to registration of genetically engineered cultivars for crops and Bovine Somatotrophic Hormone both of which were contentious.
In his new position Taylor will be tasked with upgrading current food programs and opportunities, identifying composite needs and regulatory priorities, planning new food safely legislation and budget initiatives.
His industry involvement has not endeared him to the “Greens.” Despite the assertions of bias from organizations including the Center for Science in the Public Interest and state organic associations Michael Taylor appears to have a broad perspective of food production and the needs of both producers and consumers. He may end up pleasing neither camp which may imply success.
Given the recent mishandling of foodborne incidents relating to produce, peanuts and ground beef coupled with the obvious lack of resources to carry out the mandated responsibilities, he will have a difficult task. The FDA, USDA and other agencies appear to have been fighting perennial turf wars within the Washington jungle. He has already received criticism from his predecessor Dr. David Acheson relating to his stance on harvesting Gulf Coast oysters. His proposed rules, considered by this commentator, a long-time resident of Louisiana as justified, have been shelved by Congress.
Foodborne disease and contamination episodes damage the image of producers and processers and impact consumer confidence in products. Coordination of agency resources and application of appropriate preventive action by USDA and FDA will be to the benefit of the entire nation. Accordingly we wish Michael Taylor every success in his endeavors to emulate Hercules in cleaning the Augean Stables and untying the Gordian Knot.