Daily Archives: February 20, 2012

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CSPI protests petition to remove Michael Taylor from FDA

By Monica Eng

7:51 p.m. CST, 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 Obamato 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 this research.

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 petition.”

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 line.

“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 interest.”

In a USA Today post about the issue, Taylor says he does not involve himself in decisions o 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 to label GMOs in the U.S. Like the Taylor petition, a petition urging the FDA to require labeling (through a campaign called Just Label It) has also gathered more than a half a million supporters.

Copyright © 2012, Chicago Tribune

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