February 19, 2012

CSPI wars with other activists over petition to remove Michael Taylor from FDA

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 CSPI wars with other activists over petition to remove Michael Taylor from FDA
Monica Eng
Chicago Tribune, February 17 2012

If you belong to any progressive mailing lists, chances are you've recently been
urged to sign a petition calling for the removal of Michael Taylor as head of
food safety at the Food and Drug Administration.

Food activists take issue with the fact that the former chief lobbyist for
Monsanto, the dominant maker of genetically modified seeds and pesticides,
oversees the nation's food safety.  Here's a bit on the recent GMO kerfuffle.

More than 413,000 have signed the petition (on signon.org, a tool launched by
Moveon.org) urging President Barack Obama to fire the man who, to many,
represents the epitome of the revolving door between industry lobbyists and
regulatory agency executives.  In recent weeks, Moveon.org, Credo, Food
Democracy and Eco Watch have all encouraged their followers to sign the
petition, which was started by an Atlanta man named Frederick Ravid.

With these recent high profile endorsements, the numbers of petition signers
have jumped dramatically, leading some surprising Taylor supporters to jump into
the fray today with an open letter to MoveOn.

These included about eight academics, food safety advocates and the Center for
Science in the Public Interest who have been impressed with Taylor's work in
food safety.

"Michael Taylor is a devoted public official and I thought it was outrageous
that he was being attacked in this mindless petition, " said Michael Jacobson,
the executive director of the CSPI, an organization normally known for holding
government and industry feet to the fire.

But while CSPI has been an aggressive watchdog on many food issues, it has
notably diverged from most food watchdogs in its lack of criticism for
genetically modified foods.    

The letter called the petition a bald "character assassination" and questioned
its assertion that several types of cancer may be connected to genetically
modified foods.  While many studies have indicated adverse health outcomes
connected to GMOs,  Jacobson notes that no governmental regulatory agencies have
embraced these studies.    

When asked how CSPI feels in general about former industry lobbyists becoming
regulatory officials, he said, "We're suspicious but we don't take it to mean
that anyone who has worked with any company is opposed to the public interest.
You have to look at this on an individual basis. If you work for a big company
it doesn't automatically mean you are  villain."

 The open letter notes that the signatories hold "a diversity of views" on
genetically engineered food, but "are unanimous in our belief that Taylor is a
valued deputy commissioner and we regret that this factually untrue Internet
smear campaign has attracted so much support."

 The letter continues with the following statement. The comments in parentheses
belong to the writers of the letter.

 "Reasonable people can disagree about Monsanto's corporate policies (often
bad), or the quality of government oversight of GE foods (inadequate) or the
appropriateness of genetically modified crops in the first place. But all of us
agree that there is no foundation for the outlandish statements made in the

While the letter asks Moveon.org to send an email to its members correcting what
they see as errors in the petition, the director of Moveon's Signon.org Steven
Biel sent the Tribune a note Friday saying only this:  

"Michael Taylor is just another example of the revolving door between lobbyists
and government that has made the American people so distrustful of Washington
politics. Mr. Taylor went from working at the FDA to working at Monsanto and
back to the FDA. Of course this back and forth raises questions about his
ability to remain impartial regarding decisions that impact Monsanto's bottom

"The American people deserve an unbiased approach to protecting our food. That's
why the nearly 500,000 people who signed the petition on SignOn.org urge
President Obama to seek a qualified replacement with no such conflicts of

In a USA Today post about the issue, Taylor says he does not involve himself GMO
issues. Still, critics find that hard to believe as GM foods are now a central
part of the American diet. Additionally the FDA oversees some of the most
important decisions having to do with genetically modified foods.

One of the biggest is the decision over whether or not GMOs should be labeled in
the U.S. Like the Taylor petition, one urging the FDA to require labeling (from
a campaing called Just Label It) has also attracted around a half a million
The Genetic Engineering Blog is produced by Thomas Wittman and EcoFarm, and supported by a generous donation from the Newman's Own Foundation.  Please pass this vital information on.  If you would like to get on this list go to www.eco-farm.org and select Blogs.

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