An open letter to MoveOn.org and SignOn.org regarding their Internet smear of FDA official Michael Taylor
March 8, 2012
The National Consumers League (NCL), the oldest consumer advocacy organization in the country, is writing to offer another perspective on Michael Taylor, the deputy commissioner for foods at the Food and Drug Administration, and the subject of a petition that SignOn.org, which is sponsored by MoveOn.org. The petition urges the Obama administration to fire Taylor based on his former employment at the controversial agricultural biotechnology company Monsanto. While we may disagree with the administration’s policy on genetically engineered foods, we believe that Taylor was and is a valued deputy commissioner, and we regret that a factually untrue Internet smear campaign has attracted so much support.
NCL has been representing consumer interests on food safety and nutrition issues since its inception. Through our work, we have known Michael Taylor for many years, when he occupied previous high-level positions in the federal government, taught at George Washington University, and even worked at Monsanto.
NCL acknowledges that Monsanto may symbolize a lot of things that many people don’t like about modern, industrial agriculture. But Mr. Taylor’s resume cannot be reduced to his work at that company. For instance, he played an important role in the Clinton administration as head of the Food Safety and Inspection Service at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, where he stood up to industry and fought for strict controls that help keep E. coli and other pathogens out of meat and poultry. Since joining the Obama administration, Taylor has been working extraordinarily hard to transform the FDA from a reactive agency that chases down foodborne-illness outbreaks after people fall ill, to a public-health-based agency focused on preventing foods from becoming contaminated in the first place. We are confident that his leadership, formerly at USDA and now at FDA, has and will continue to reduce the number of Americans sickened, hospitalized, and killed by foodborne pathogens.
Also, the petition and email attack on Taylor include statements that are simply without a basis in fact about genetically engineered foods. The petition states that since the introduction of GE foods, the “diagnosis of multiple chronic illnesses in the U.S. has skyrocketed,” and that the industry’s products “may also be contributors to colon, breast, lymphatic, and prostate cancers.” Reasonable people can disagree about Monsanto’s corporate policies, or the quality of government oversight of GE foods, or the appropriateness of genetically engineering food crops in the first place. But all of us agree that there is no foundation for the fallacious statements made in the petition attacking Taylor.
Perhaps most disturbing and certainly not good for MoveOn’s credibility is that the petition’s author, Frederick Ravid, is hardly a food-safety expert, but self-identifies as the “the 21st generation descendent from father-to-son of the famous 12th century Kaballistic Master Rabbi Abraham ben David, of Posquierres, known the RaVaD." Ravid claims that President Barack Obama, “is among “many historic figures in History [sic]” who “have notable prior incarnations who also have historical significance.” President Obama is “considered the reincarnation of Senator Lyman Trumbull,” according to Ravid’s site. Ravid sounds like, frankly, less than a credible spokesman for any cause, let alone one as important as food safety. We are disturbed that SignOn.org/MoveOn.org are being used as a vehicle to spread Mr. Ravid’s unsubstantiated claims to a broad audience and smear the reputation of a decent, talented, and hardworking civil servant.
The fact is that Michael Taylor has been an important part of an impressive food safety team that has accomplished an enormous amount in a short time. While none of them have accomplished everything food safety advocates would like to see done, certainly Mike Taylor, along with President Obama, USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack, FSIS Under Secretary for Food Safety Elisabeth Hagen, and FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg, have made great progress on food safety in a short period of time. We urge MoveOn to remove the petition from its SignOn.org website, and to send a correction letter to everyone who has signed the petition. Thanks for your attention to our concerns.