Some thoughts on the “fire Mike Taylor” petitions
USA Today has picked up the various Internet petitions—SignOn, FoodDemocracyNow, CredoAction, etc— to fire Mike Taylor, the head food safety person at the FDA.
When the FDA hired Mike Taylor nearly three years ago, I wrote a long post reviewing his complicated employment history: Monsanto, FDA, USDA, Monsanto, private sector, university, FDA—a classic example of the “revolving door.”.
He was at FDA, although recused, when the agency approved GM foods and denied labeling.
But at USDA, he was a public health hero to food safety advocates. He was responsible for installing food safety oversight systems that have greatly reduced contamination outbreaks from meat and poultry.
He was hired at FDA to do the same thing, which is why I thought his appointment made sense at the time. I thought he ought to be given a chance.
He has now become the flashpoint for public anger at FDA over issues that include GM foods but go well beyond them:
- Failure to require labeling of GM foods
- Failure to recognize the scaled-down safety needs of small farmers
- Failure to enforce and punish food safety violations by large producers
- Unfair enforcement of food safety procedures against small producers
- Clamping down on raw milk producers
As I explained to USA Today, I’m a big fan of MoveOn and grass-roots political action, and I’ve been advocating for GM labeling since I was on the FDA Food Advisory Committee in 1994 (if only they had listened to me).
But I don’t exactly get where the “fire Monsanto Mike” movement is coming from nearly three years after he was hired. Why make the political so personal?
What would firing Mike Taylor do? It would show the muscle of the anti-corporate food movement, says Nestle, “and there’s much to be said for that.” However, she questions whether Taylor leaving would do anything to advance the goals of this loose coalition of activists. “Will it make the FDA listen more carefully to demands that it keep its priorities where the most serious food safety problems are? I don’t know.”
All of the issues mentioned in the petitions are important. All are complicated. All deserve serious thought and attention to political goals. Will firing Mike Taylor advance those goals?