Controversy Through Association: FDA Deputy Commissioner and His Monsanto History

By: Michael Engle

As widely seen during our national campaign time, often times, controversy can arise from previously held professional associations by certain candidates.  A similar debate is arising in Washington, D.C. in regard to food politics, as Stephanie Armour reports for Bloomberg.

Michael Taylor is employed by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), where he currently serves as the deputy commissioner for food safety.  Previously, Taylor served as the FDA's deputy commissioner for policy; however, for 16 months in between his FDA stints, he served as the vice-president of public policy at Monsanto.  Monsanto is a leading name in genetically-modified organism (GMO), or "Franken-food," production.  This plants Taylor as a lightning rod of controversy, due to the fact that GMO's are a polarizing subject in modern food politics.

Although GMO's result in edible food and are beloved by mass producers (Imagine a rice field that will not drown in a monsoon, and keep its yield!), they are criticized for homogenizing the crop gene pool, forcing small-scale farmers out of business, and proliferating auto-immune diseases among humans.  In fact, 1,000 acres of Monsanto-brand GMO corn was discovered and destroyed in Hungary, where GMO's are banned; Peru also recently voted to ban GMO's for the next ten years.

The million-dollar question will be answered with due diligence, but it can be worded succinctly: Can Michael Taylor perform his duties to the FDA, and, by proxy, to the American taxpayers, without exhibiting any biases in favor of Monsanto?  A recent development between the USA and the European Union is particularly alarming.  Shortly after the USA and the E.U. agreed on bilateral standards for organic labeling, the U.S. FDA announced that it would accelerate its approval of GMO's.  Whether you support GMO production, oppose it, or do not yet have an opinion on the subject, most people would agree that simply accelerating the process of consideration is a grave mistake.  Not only could such a measure invalidate efforts towards sustainable agriculture, but it would open a Pandora's box of other decisions that "should be accelerated."

In the name of health, nutrition, sustainability, and the agricultural economy, the case for or against GMO production should be more scrutinized, and not less.  If it could be proven that this accelerated review and approval is so that Taylor may "do his job" while benefiting Monsanto, as conspiracy theorists would like to believe, then it would be evident that Taylor is not impartial, and thereby abusing his position.  Failing this, it is imprudent to demand Taylor's resignation on account of a previous employer, despite his qualified expertise in the food industry.  Either way, President Obama could prove to be the final arbiter of Taylor's fate, as he may choose to eliminate the controversy surrounding Taylor by replacing him, and thereby reducing federal distractions from his own reelection campaign.

Photo: Daniel Lobo

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