A petition attacking Michael Taylor, deputy commissioner for foods at the Food and Drug Administration, “represents the baldest sort of character assassination” and is full of factual misstatements, according to an open letter written by food safety experts to MoveOn.org, whose SignOn.org site hosts the petition.
The food safety experts, and the nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest, are calling on MoveOn to send an email to its members correcting the petition’s errors and offering instructions to people who may want to remove their names from the petition.
The petition, created by an Atlanta financial advisor, Frederick Ravid, criticizes Taylor for having worked at the controversial biotechnology company Monsanto.
But MoveOn.org defended its position.
"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," said Steven Biel, Director of SignOn.org. "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."
Diversity of views
The signatories to the open letter to MoveOn.org write that they have a “diversity of views” on genetically engineered foods but are “unanimous in our belief that Taylor is a valued deputy commissioner, and we regret that a factually untrue Internet smear campaign has attracted so much support.”
“All of us have known Michael Taylor for many years, including when he occupied previous high-level positions in the federal government, taught at George Washington University School of Public Health, and even when he worked at Monsanto,” the food safety experts write. “We acknowledge that Monsanto symbolizes a lot of things that many people (including some of us) don’t like about modern, industrial agriculture. But Mr. Taylor’s résumé is not reducible to his work at that company.”
The letter goes on to praise Taylor’s work in the Clinton Administration fighting for pathogen controls for meat and poultry producers, and for his current work in the Obama Administration reforming the FDA.
"No basis in fact"
The letter to MoveOn also says that some of Mr. Ravid’s statements in the petition about genetically engineered foods are without basis in fact.
The petition blames skyrocketing diagnoses of chronic disease on genetically engineered foods, and says that the biotech industry’s products “may also be contributors to colon, breast, lymphatic, and prostate cancers.” Despite the controversy over genetically engineered crops, no evidence supports those claims, according to CSPI.
“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 engineering food crops in the first place,” the open letter reads. “But all of us agree that there is no foundation for the outlandish statements made in the petition.”
The open letter notes that far from being a food safety authority, the petition’s author, Mr. Ravid, believes himself to be “the 21st generation descendent from father-to-son of the famous 12th century Kaballistic [sic] Master Rabbi Abraham ben David, of Posquierres, known as the RaVaD.”
Ravid’s web site indicates that he believes President Obama is the reincarnation of a Civil-War-era Senator, Lyman Trumbull, and that various world events, such as the earthquake in Haiti or the founding of the League of Nations, are related to solar eclipses.
“We mean no disrespect for Mr. Ravid’s religious beliefs but we do question his respect for science,” the food safety experts wrote to MoveOn.org.
Besides CSPI executive director Michael F. Jacobson, other signatories to the letter include Carole Tucker Foreman, a former Assistant Secretary for Food Safety affiliated with Consumer Federation of America, food safety lawyer William D. Marler, STOP Foodborne Illness chief executive officer Deirdre Schlunegger, J. Glenn Morris of the University of Florida’s Emerging Pathogens Institute, Michael Rodemeyer of the University of Virginia and the former executive director of the Pew Initiative on Food and Biotechnology, National Center for Food Protection and Defense director Shawn Kennedy, and Donald W. Schaffner, director of the Center for Advanced Food Technology at Rutgers.