FDAs Taylor to lead food safety mandate

January 14, 2010

According to The Washington Post, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has appointed Michael Taylor to a new position as Deputy Commissioner for Foods on Jan. 6. Taylor has devoted his career to food safety, working in and out of government, and he was working at George Washington University when the Obama administration approached him to implement the solutions he had been designing. A string of food poisoning outbreaks nationally had sickened thousands and killed dozens. Both parties in Congress were calling for tough new laws. The President promised the public that he would strengthen food safety. In July 2009, Taylor became an advisor to Margaret Hamburg, Commissioner of the FDA.

Now, Congress is moving ahead with legislation to grant vast new authority to the FDA to ensure food safety—the House passed a bill last year and the Senate is expected to take up its version soon—and Taylor will be responsible for implementing new laws aimed at preventing outbreaks instead of merely reacting after they occur.

“We are at an historic tipping point—a moment when the forces have aligned like never before; the President, Congress, industry, and the public have stepped up their support for our mission,” Taylor told a gathering of FDA staff members in Dec. 2009.

Taylor is a familiar figure at the FDA. He began his career as a staff attorney at the agency in 1976. He returned to the FDA in 1991 as Deputy Commissioner for Policy and pushed through requirements that producers of seafood and juices adopt measures to prevent bacterial contamination. In 1994, Taylor went to the U.S. Agriculture Department (USDA) to run its food-safety program. He required meat and poultry producers to take measures to prevent bacterial contamination, despite strong opposition from those industries. Observers expect Taylor to impose those same kinds of preventive controls on all the foods regulated by the FDA.

Since July 2009, Taylor has been bringing together divisions to make the FDA more nimble. Food regulation is split among the Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, where much of the scientific research takes place; the Center for Veterinary Medicine, which regulates the manufacture and sale of food additives and drugs for animals; and the Office of Regulatory Affairs, which handles inspections of domestic and imported products and works with state and local officials. Traditionally, the three sections were managed separately. Any proposed policy change had to be approved by each division and then was sent for review by the general counsel in the commissioner's office. It took years to get anything done, Taylor said. Now, Taylor has pulled together a senior leadership team that cuts across the three divisions and has created similar cross-sectional teams to work on core issues.

Taylor has already taken some steps that suggest a new, more muscular approach to regulation. The agency has been cracking down on nutrition claims on processed foods, saying that some food makers have overstated the health benefits of their products.

The Washington Post article