I say this in full knowledge of his history. In the 1990s, Mr.
Taylor held positions in both FDA and USDA and his career in these
agencies is complicated. As I explained in my 2003 book, Safe
Food (see the endnotes for full documentation), Mr. Taylor began his
career as a lawyer with the FDA. When he left the FDA, he went to work
for King & Spalding, a law firm that represented Monsanto, the
company that developed genetically engineered bovine growth hormone
(BGH), corn, and soybeans.
He revolved back to the FDA in 1991 as deputy commissioner for
policy, and he held that position during the time the agency
approved Monsanto's BGH. At the time of the review, he had been with
FDA for more than two years. This made him exempt from newly passed
conflict-of-interest guidelines that applied only to the first year of
federal employment. He also was a coauthor of the FDA's 1992 policy
statement on genetically engineered plant foods, and he signed the
notice stating that milk from cows treated with BGH did not have to be labeled as such.
For whatever it is worth, a 1999 lawsuit and GAO report revealed
considerable disagreement about these decisions within FDA. These also
revealed that Mr. Taylor had recused himself from matters related to
Monsanto's BGH and had "never sought to influence the thrust or
content" of the agency's policies on Monsanto's products. I can't tell
whether there were ethical breaches here or not, but there is little
question that his work at FDA gave the appearance of conflict of
interest, if nothing more.
But wait! 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.
The amazing thing is that he actually made this work. Now, HACCP
rules apply more to USDA-regulated products than to FDA-regulated
products. This new appointment gives Mr. Taylor the chance to bring
FDA's policies in line with USDA's and even more, to make sure they are
monitored and enforced.
, I summarize Mr. Taylor's position on food safety regulation from 2002. Then, he argued for, among other things:
â¢ A single agency accountable for providing consistent and coordinated oversight of food safety, from farm to table.