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March 24, 2009

Monsanto Planting Seeds in the White House?

By Asher Miller

The appointment of Michael Taylor to The Food Safety Working Group would really belie Obama's pledge not to appoint lobbyists to positions within his administration. Taylor is a lawyer who began his revolving door adventures as counsel to FDA. He then moved to King & Spalding, a private-sector law firm representing Monsanto. Taylor wants less regulation; just like the banks wanted and got. And look where that led us.


Apparently, President Obama is considering appointing Michael Taylor to head the new Food Safety Working Group. Who's Michael Taylor? From Food Politics (care of Jill Richardson):

Mr. Taylor is a lawyer who began his revolving door adventures as counsel to FDA. He then moved to King & Spalding, a private-sector law firm representing Monsanto, a leading agricultural biotechnology company. In 1991 he returned to the FDA as Deputy Commissioner for Policy, where he was part of the team that issued the agency's decidedly industry-friendly policy on food biotechnology and that approved the use of Monsanto's genetically engineered growth hormone in dairy cows.

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His questionable role in these decisions led to an investigation by the federal General Accounting Office, which eventually exonerated him of all conflict-of-interest charges. In 1994, Mr. Taylor moved to USDA to become administrator of its Food Safety and Inspection Service... After another stint in private legal practice with King & Spalding, Mr. Taylor again joined Monsanto as Vice President for Public Policy in 1998.


The man has moved in and out of roles at the federal government and Monsanto so many times he probably has whiplash.

So what's the big deal? (I'm not going to opine on Monsanto here, other than to say that I know quite a few people who think Monsanto is the most evil corporation in the world, and that's even after this AIG debacle.) Well, two things:

The first is that I find it puzzling, to put it lightly, that Obama would choose this guy to help ensure food safety. Here's what Taylor recently said:

FDA is in "bad shape" and the FSIS meat and poultry inspection system is "obsolete," Taylor said. "We're spending a lot of government money to do inspections that could be done by someone else," he said. "We need to complete the transformation of FSIS as a food safety agency, away from inspection to a science-based public health agency." 

Yes, because it's been proven just how effective is lack of rigorous monitoring and regulation on the part of the government. We need more of less. Taylor was also responsible for writing the rBGH labeling guidelines for the FDA. The guidelines specifically prohibited dairies from stating that their products contained or were free of rBGH. Sounds safe to me.

Second, the appointment of Michael Taylor to the Food Safety Working Group would really belie Obama's pledge not to appoint lobbyists to positions within his administration. And this would not be the first time. Am I shocked? No. But this is not merely a matter of a politician going back on a pledge or dancing around the edges. 

The AIG/bank bailout fiasco shows just how crippled the Obama Administration can be by conflicts of interest. Secretary Geithner has failed miserably at asserting the federal government's authority over the corporations to which we've handed out hundreds of billions of dollars. The banks aren't lending, and AIG and Citigroup are using our tax dollars to provide private benefits to some of the who got us into this mess. 

As Josh Marshall eloquently states, the real issue behind the AIG bonus debacle isn't the money.

There's no end of puffed up outrage and opportunistic posturing over the on-going revelation of the AIG bonus scandal. But some line has been crossed. And it's worth thinking really clearly about just what that line is. What is so damaging about this isn't the money -- which is almost trivially small compared to the many hundreds of billions we've already committed. The problem is what appears to be the president's mortifying impotence in the face of bankers and financiers who created the problem. 

Appointing people who have close ties to--and, in many cases, have actually worked for--the industries they are responsible for regulating, is a losing proposition. Whether or not Geithner and other Obama appointees are intending to serve private corporate interests over those of the nation, their close relationships and possible conflicts of interest certainly don't help.

Originally posted at Post Carbon Institute. 

Authors Website:

Authors Bio:
Asher Miller became the Executive Director of Post Carbon Institute in October 2008, after having served as the manager of the Relocalization Network. He's worked in the nonprofit sector since 1996 in various capacities. Prior to joining Post Carbon Institute, Asher founded Climate Changers, an organization that inspires people to reduce their impact on the climate by focusing on simple and achievable actions anyone can take. Some of his previous roles include: Partnership Director at Plugged In, an organization working in East Palo Alto, CA that connects individuals and cultivates minds by creating the opportunity to produce, express, and contribute using technology; International Production Coordinator at Steven Spielberg's Shoah Foundation, which created the largest video archive in the world, containing more than 52,000 interviews conducted in 56 countries around the world; and Youth Manager at the Volunteer Center of Sonoma County, which engaged more than 800 teens a year in community service and education about social and environmental issues. He also ghostwrote the autobiography of a Polish Holocaust survivor who fought as a partisan in the forests of Belarus, and served as a consultant to a number of other nonprofit organizations, including Just Think and Okizu Foundation.

Asher currently serves on the boards of Transition United States and Listening for a Change, and on the Advisory Board of ErthNxt. He recently served as a member of Senator John Edwards' Cleantech / Green Business Advisory Committee. Asher was born in the Netherlands, and has lived in Israel, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Oregon, Connecticut, Colorado, and California. He currently lives in Santa Rosa, CA with his wife and three year old son. Asher received his B.A. in Creative Writing from The Colorado College.