Welcome, Mike Taylor

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This morning we have the first of what I hope will be frequent updates from Michael Taylor, a senior adviser to Margaret Hamburg, the commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration. As our Marion Nestle wrote to hail his appointment:

He really is a good choice for this job. Why? Because he managed to get USDA to institute HACCP (science-based food safety regulations) for meat and poultry against the full opposition of the meat industry--a truly heroic accomplishment. His position on food safety has been strong and consistent for years. He favors a single food agency, HACCP for all foods, and accountability and enforcement. We need this for FDA-regulated foods (we also need enforcement for USDA-regulated foods, but he won't be able to touch that unless Congress says so). So he's the person most likely to be able to get decent regulations in place and get them enforced.

I first met Taylor and heard him speak at a conference at MIT for Knight fellows in science journalism, at which he described frankly the past 15 years or so of work the USDA and FDA had done both with and without his consultation: he has previously worked at both agencies and also, as Nestle noted, at Monsanto. I knew as soon as I heard his lucid, reasonable, forceful talk that I wanted to hear from him on the Food Channel, and cheered when he returned to the FDA.

Already the agency is taking bold positions many would argue it should have taken years ago, years when it has lacked the funding to do what many both inside and outside the agency wanted it to--particularly to ensure food safety, and put in place the teeth to enforce regulation.

Along with the crucial business of food safety, Margaret Hamburg is setting a new tone at the agency regarding straightforward and easily comprehensible nutrition information exactly where people need it--on the label. The success of the standardized calorie, portion, sodium, fat, and other nutritional information on labels has given to rise to claims on boxes that need sorting and pruning. As Taylor says in his debut post, the commissioner and he intend to do that sorting and pruning. The kind of claims that the industry made in its Smart Choices program, which Nestle took the lead in what became wide ridicule--in her typically abashed way, she said of her own opinion, "Mine is that the Smart Choices program is a travesty and the sooner it disappears, the better"--will be a thing of the past. Industry will work in concert with the FDA to straighten out and make consistent the information rushed shoppers get.

That's one of only a few programs--some long-term, many urgently short-term--that Taylor, Hamburg, and their colleagues deal with all day and often night long at the agency. I'm really, really pleased that we'll be getting to hear some of their reports as they face those problems head on.

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Corby Kummer's work in The Atlantic has established him as one of the most widely read, authoritative, and creative food writers in the United States. The San Francisco Examiner pronounced him "a dean among food writers in America." More

Corby Kummer's work in The Atlantic has established him as one of the most widely read, authoritative, and creative food writers in the United States. The San Francisco Examiner pronounced him "a dean among food writers in America." Julia Child once said, "I think he's a very good food writer. He really does his homework. As a reporter and a writer he takes his work very seriously." Kummer's 1990 Atlantic series about coffee was heralded by foodies and the general public alike. The response to his recommendations about coffees and coffee-makers was typical--suppliers scrambled to meet the demand. As Giorgio Deluca, co-founder of New York's epicurean grocery Dean & Deluca, says: "I can tell when Corby's pieces hit; the phone doesn't stop ringing." His book, The Joy of Coffee, based on his Atlantic series, was heralded by The New York Times as "the most definitive and engagingly written book on the subject to date." In nominating his work for a National Magazine Award (for which he became a finalist), the editors wrote: "Kummer treats food as if its preparation were something of a life sport: an activity to be pursued regularly and healthfully by knowledgeable people who demand quality." Kummer's book The Pleasures of Slow Food celebrates local artisans who raise and prepare the foods of their regions with the love and expertise that come only with generations of practice. Kummer was restaurant critic of New York Magazine in 1995 and 1996 and since 1997 has served as restaurant critic for Boston Magazine. He is also a frequent food commentator on television and radio. He was educated at Yale, and came to The Atlantic Monthly in 1981. He is the recipient of five James Beard Journalism Awards, including the MFK Fisher Distinguished Writing Award.
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