In his weekly address last Saturday, President Obama announced two superb appointments to head the FDA. He also confirmed reports that his Administration will create a Food Safety Working Group, and here, the good news is who won’t be running the show.
For weeks, food safety activists and organic growers had campaigned against Obama transition team member Michael Taylor’s rumored appointment to head the FSWG. Last weekend, Obama announced that HHS-Secrectary nominee Kathleen Sibelius and Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack will lead the FSWG. But, will Obama still select Michael Taylor, Monsanto’s revolving-door man at FDA and USDA, to be a member of the FSWG?
Who cares about something as obscure as a Presidential Working Group? For the Food Safety Working Group, just about anyone who eats. America’s food safety agencies – starved of funds, sabotaged by industry moles appointed to strangle consumer protection – repeatedly fail to protect us and our loved ones (and pets) from toxic food. Last weekend, Obama described the result.
Worse, these incidents reflect a troubling trend that’s seen the average number of outbreaks from contaminated produce and other foods grow to nearly 350 a year – up from 100 a year in the early 1990s.
He also addressed part of the cause:
The FDA has been underfunded and understaffed in recent years, leaving the agency with the resources to inspect just 7,000 of our 150,000 food processing plants and warehouses each year. That means roughly 95% of them go uninspected.
He didn’t mention how industry moles appointed to FDA and/or USDA have systematically warped Federal regulations and gutted enforcement. If he needs a reminder of how a single industry servant in Federal office can bring the company he serves a gift that lasts for generations, he could always call in his own transition team member, Michael Taylor
Taylor, a former attorney for Monsanto, went to work for the United States Food and Drug Administration, where he helped draft FDA’s policy declaring that genetically modified foods are "generally regarded as safe" (GRAS). While at the FDA, Taylor also wrote the policy that exempted biotech foods from labeling. His former law firm, which still represented Monsanto, then began suing dairies that labeled their milk rBGH-free (Monsanto’s bovine growth hormone to increase milk production). After these policies were written, Taylor left the FDA and eventually went back to work for Monsanto.
The quality of the two excellent physicians selected as FDA #1 and #2, his public description of the increasingly severe failures to fund and protect food safety, and his selection of the truly outstanding Kathleen Merrigan as Deputy Ag Secretary all indicate President Obama knows America’s food safety system badly needs fixing.
The blogosphere, like the traditional media, sometimes needs fixing, too. For weeks food safety activists have been getting alerts about HR 875, but as Tom Philpott at Grist points out, HR 875 isn’t the problem: the alerts appear to confuse 875 with other bills. Despite weeks of alerts that Obama would appoint Taylor to FSWG, as Jill Richardson of La Vida Locavore points out, the alerts are based on rumors. As long as the White House’s decision making process for the FSWG remains hidden from public scrutiny, rumors are all we have to work with.
So, President Obama: will you be appointing Michael Taylor or any other "revolving door" industry insiders to the White House Food Safety Working Group? The decisions they make affect us all; we deserve to know. We deserve transparency, and we deserve to have the regulators free of conflicts of interest.
This isn’t banking, after all.