Food Safety Czar

Byy On

Much has been made of czars in the current administration; however, one czar in particular should have people from both political sides a little nervous. In a case of sheer duplicity, the first family started a garden at the White House, and then the President appointed Michael Taylor the Food Safety Czar. For those not familiar with Michael Taylor, he was in the FDA during the Clinton administration and was primarily responsible for getting the growth hormones rbGH/rbST injected into cows to increase production. Prior to his stint in the FDA, he spent time at a law firm that represented Monsanto. After leaving the FDA in 1998 he went to Monsanto as the VP of Public Policy and is now back in the FDA. He has also been a formidable proponent of GMO, genetically-modified organisms, in food and may have led the effort to cover up a number of important scientific studies that showed GMO food is not safe.

According to a FDA press release on July 7, 2009 announcing his appointment, he will have the following responsibilities:

1. Assess current food program challenges and opportunities
2. Identify capacity needs and regulatory priorities
3. Develop plans for allocating fiscal year 2010 resources
4. Develop the FDA’s budget request for fiscal year 2011
5. Plan implementation of new food safety legislation.

The press release from the FDA is more telling in what it does not say than it what it does say:

"'I am honored and grateful that Commissioner Hamburg has asked me to return to the FDA in the position of Senior Advisor to the Commissioner,' Taylor said. 'I am looking forward to working with her, Principal Deputy Commissioner Joshua Sharfstein, and all of the FDA’s dedicated and talented people.'

Taylor has had a long and distinguished career in public service. He began at the FDA in 1976 as a litigating attorney. He served as the FDA’s Deputy Commissioner for Policy from 1991 to 1994, overseeing the FDA's policy development and rule-making, including the implementation of the Nutrition Labeling and Education Act, as well as issuance of new seafood safety rules.

From 1994 to 1996, he served at the U.S. Department of Agriculture as Administrator of the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) and Acting Under Secretary for Food Safety. During that time, he spearheaded public health-oriented reform of the FSIS. Since 2000, Taylor has worked in academic and research settings on the challenges facing the nation’s food safety system and ways to address them.”

Based on the press release, we have a person with a long, storied career as a public servant who has dedicated his life to food safety. In reality, we have a former Monsanto executive who has single-handedly redefined food safety in this country and made it less safe. Now he is in charge of cleaning up the mess he helped create. Maybe sometime in the last 10 years he had an epiphany and now realizes the error of his ways, but more likely this is part of an ongoing effort to have corporate agriculture further control the food chain with Washington DC aiding and abetting the crime.

About Craig Mayberry

Closed Account • Member since Jan 17, 2008

While writing his articles from 2008 to 2011, Craig lived near Lynden and taught at both Whatcom Community College and Western Washington University. He was active in politics and ran for public [...]

Comments by Readers

Matt Petryni

Sep 16, 2009

I totally agree that this appointment was not a very good one. While this pales in comparison to the outright corporate lobbyist takeover of government policy we experienced under the Bush Administration, even I easily can name a dozen qualified advocates for food safety that should have been recruited for the job above a lifetime Monsanto rep like Michael Taylor. They should have looked much, much harder.

That being said, I think it’s important to uncouple this criticism from all of the debate about “czars.” It just seems so incredible. That got started when Obama poked fun at the tendency of the media to term policy analysts and regulatory directors as “czars” and somehow, in the same echo chamber he was mocking, it got turned into an absurd portrait of Obama’s Administration as one drifting toward (I guess?) a 19th century Russian aristocracy. The whole diatribe has to be among the most ridiculous sets of arguments I’ve ever seen in American politics, and that’s really saying something.

Too your credit, your post is not focused on this issue really, but about really worthwhile concerns. But as a somewhat tangential statement, I wanted to clear the air on this “czar” nonsense. No one in the Obama Administration is proposing a pre-Trotskyite Russian state to replace the Federal Republic. And I think even the most firebrand water carriers of the “Czar revolt,” such as Glenn Beck, know that full well. If the objection is that the Federal government is making policy well beyond its Constitutional authority, I would say that objection is legitimate. But let’s focus on that, with arguments such as thus: “Domestic safety issues, such as food safety and agricultural regulation, are properly the role of the states and not the Federal government, whose policies of agricultural subsidies have overwhelmingly performed in favor of agribusiness oligopolies like Monsanto and Cargill rather than sustainable local agriculture.”

Anyway, my kudos for keeping a discussion focused in a reasonable place, and I hope others in the so-called “czar debate” would actually do the same.


James J Johann

Sep 17, 2009

The use of the word “czar” to describe an official who can make policy beyond his constitutional authority is quite legitimate. “Csar” is a metaphor.  It is prose shorthand to describe the questionable power in the position the official holds with respect to policy making.  In poetry, a metaphor is used to beautifully describe a commonplace notion.  As such the metaphor “czar"is quite handy, for it saves time while it projects the intended criticism on the official’s position.

The point is that it is an error to interpret a metaphor literally, for to do so distorts the meaning of what the speaker intends.  Unfortunately, it is such a commonplace error today that it is almost unrecognizable, and its use in major media to denigrate a speaker is rampant.


Craig Mayberry

Sep 17, 2009


Thanks for your thoughts and I agree.  I only used the czar term in this instance to bring a little controversy, with a hint of sarcasm.  Any president needs policy people, call them czars or whatever, and most of them are not approved by Congress, which again is fine.  I have not heard any reasonable argument that Obama is doing anything different from any other president in terms of staffing levels or protocols to filling those positions. 

I do think there is a valid debate on who fills the positions and whether they are the right person for the job (and what sort of message does it send), which is why I brought up the FDA food safey position.  The position is needed, but needed to be filled by someone else beside Michael Taylor.  Hiring Michael Taylor sent the wrong message and smacks of hypocrisy by the current administration.


Jeffrey Schmidt

Sep 17, 2009

every ostrich a czar!

To comment, Log In or Register