Many companies hope to send an employee into a government agency to influence regulation. How much better if the employee can actually shape government regulation to promote and sell a specific product! Monsanto seems to have accomplished this — and much more.
Michael Taylor is among a number of people with Monsanto ties who have worked in government in recent years. He worked for the Nixon and Reagan Food and Drug Administration in the 1970s, then became a lawyer representing Monsanto. In 1991, he returned to the FDA as Deputy Commissioner for Policy under George H. W. Bush, and helped secure approval for Monsanto’s genetically engineered bovine (cow) growth hormone, despite it being banned in Canada, Europe, Japan, Australia, and New Zealand.
This was only a start for Taylor. He also did not like some producers advertising their milk as bovine-growth-hormone-free. That seemed to put Monsanto’s product in an unfavorable light. So in 1994 he wrote a guidance document from within the FDA requiring that any food label describing the product as bovine-growth-hormone-free must also include these words: “The FDA has determined … no significant difference has been shown between milk derived from [BGH] and non-[BGH] supplemented cows.”
It apparently did not concern Taylor that this new pronouncement by the FDA was unsupported by either Monsanto or FDA studies. A private company making any such unsupported claim could have been charged with fraud. But since it came out of the FDA, milk producers would place themselves at legal risk by not printing it on their label.
Taylor moved to the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) in the mid-1990s. During this period, he tried to persuade the FDA and Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to take a further step and make it illegal for dairies to make any claim to a bovine-growth-hormone-free product. Failing in that, he reached out to state governments to make such a claim illegal at the state level. This was finally blocked by a court decision in Ohio that there was indeed a “compositional difference” between BGH and non-BGH-treated milk. Long before this 2010 ruling, Taylor had returned to Monsanto as a vice president, and then returned to President Obama’s FDA, first as Senior Advisor on Food Safety and then Deputy Commissioner for Foods.
Taylor’s story, however, is not just about milk, or even mainly about milk. During his second posting at the FDA, as Deputy Commissioner for Policy 1991–1994, Agency scientists were grappling with questions about the overall safety of genetically engineered foods (often labeled Genetically Modified Organisms). As Jeffrey Smith notes,
[Internal] memo after memo described toxins, new diseases, nutritional deficiencies, and hard to detect allergens. [Staff scientists] were adamant that the technology carried “serious health hazards,” and required careful, long-term research, including human studies. …