A recent issue of Agri-Pulse gave us some bad news. Obama's considering Michael Taylor to head his new Food Safety Working Group. For a president who came to power with grassroots support on a promise to keep lobbyists out of the administration, this is a bad move. It's true that Obama's "no-lobbyist" promise has a time-limit on it (I believe it's "nobody who was a lobbyist in the last two years") and Taylor probably passes that test, but he doesn't pass the overall smell test. Taylor's name is synonymous with the revolving door between industry and government.
(Off-topic... Peanut salmonella hearing NOW (link) - I will blog it up on my site http://www.lavidalocavore.org today or tomorrow. Also, Louise Slaughter introduced an antibiotic in livestock ban bill yesterday. Ted Kennedy introduced it into the Senate, & Snowe made a great statement for it.)
From Food Politics, p. 101:
Mr. Taylor is a lawyer who began his revolving door adventures as counsel to FDA. He then moved to King & Spalding, a private-sector law firm representing Monsanto, a leading agricultural biotechnology company. In 1991 he returned to the FDA as Deputy Commissioner for Policy, where he was part of the team that issued the agency's decidedly industry-friendly policy on food biotechnology and that approved the use of Monsanto's genetically engineered growth hormone in dairy cows. His questionable role in these decisions led to an investigation by the federal General Accounting Office, which eventually exonerated him of all conflict-of-interest charges. In 1994, Mr. Taylor moved to USDA to become administrator of its Food Safety and Inspection Service... After another stint in private legal practice with King & Spalding, Mr. Taylor again joined Monsanto as Vice President for Public Policy in 1998.
So that's Michael Taylor's resume. Here's what he said recently, according to Agri-Pulse:
The changes in food safety regulation that seem most likely to find favor in Congress, with Obama’s support, were described recently by Michael Taylor, the former deputy commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration and administrator of USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service who served on the Obama-Biden transition team at agriculture. Taylor, who some consider the leading candidate to staff the White House working group, told a National Chicken Council committee meeting last month that the reform likely would mean "fixing agencies where they sit" rather than creating a new independent agency.
FDA is in "bad shape" and the FSIS meat and poultry inspection system is "obsolete," Taylor said. "We’re spending a lot of government money to do inspections that could be done by someone else," he said. "We need to complete the transformation of FSIS as a food safety agency, away from inspection to a science-based public health agency." Taylor recommends that FDA have authority to require food manufacturers to write and follow food safety plans, improve its controls on imported foods and collect fees from industry to pay some of the cost.
Apparently there's a political back-story to Taylor's speech. The Bush USDA was working on a deal with poultry producers - the same people Taylor was speaking to - to move to "risk-based inspection," in return for allowing the poultry plants to speed up line speed. Speed up line speed??! That's the LAST thing we need. In fact, slowing down line speed would in itself be a fantastic food safety fix (as well as a fix to worker safety and animal rights).
The deal was going to permit increased line speeds if the poultry plants reduced salmonella contamination rates... a nice idea, but what about other bugs like campylobacter? There are over 2 million cases of campylobacter food poisoning in the U.S. annually, and most of that comes from poultry.
Also, the reduction in salmonella was a one-time thing for the poultry plants. If they increased line speeds and their salmonella rates went back up, the proposal didn't require them to slow the line speeds back down.
And about worker safety? Increased line speeds result in more repetitive motion injuries among workers. USDA ignores this because their job is only food safety, but as citizens who care about a just society, this is not an issue we can ignore.
Last, increasing the line speed leads to increased animal suffering. Believe it or not, poultry are exempt from our country's Humane Slaughter Act. From my upcoming book:
Poultry processors utilize throat-cutting machines that kill most birds. Employees are instructed to kill birds missed by the machine, but an undercover investigator reported "numerous birds that were scalded alive in the feather removal tank while they were still conscious and able to feel pain." The investigator brought this to management’s attention and received a reply that it was an acceptable practice for up to 40 birds per shift.
One source I found online said that each line in Tyson plants kill 186 birds per minute. Missing 40 birds per shift would actually be a very low error rate. From what I've read, nobody was disciplined when they missed more than 40 birds per shift.
It looks to me like Taylor is up to no good, and Obama would be making a very bad move to include him in his administration in any way. I'll be sending my emails here.
Kansas rbGH-free Label Ban Up For a Vote in the House - Bad news but should turn out OK bc when House passes the bill, the Senate won't.
How do we get lower income folks eating better? - Is the problem cost or access? A few studies look at that.
Industry front group sends Michael Pollan B.S. Food Rules - This week Michael Pollan asked for everyone's food rules. The front group Center for Consumer Freedom decided to send him theirs. I posted my response as well as a few of my own rules, and then a good conversation followed with everyone else's rules.
A Rundown of Food Bills in Congress Now - No fewer than 12 food safety bills. Many others about nutrition programs given the current economy.
Death on a Factory Farm - Here is some info and several reactions to the HBO special aired Monday. This will be replayed several times and it's made a huge ripple. The pork industry is quaking in its boots.