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A New Food Agency Has Become Unnecessary (For Now)

FDA Matters applauds the appointment of Mr. Michael Taylor to be the first Deputy Commissioner for Foods at FDA. With more authority, experience and stature than any previous food leader, he has the opportunity to shape and re-shape food regulation and the safety of the food supply.

Because Mr. Taylor will be outstanding in this new post, the campaign for a separate food agency will go away, at least for a couple of years.

People solve problems, reorganizations don’t. Whatever problems exist within FDA would still exist within a separate food agency. Sometimes matters get even worse, as they did with the creation of the Department of Homeland Security.

Enter Mike Taylor, the person who can solve the problems. He has been an advisor on foods to the Commissioner for months and has been promoted to line manager and decisionmaker for every food activity within FDA. Most of us think only of the Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition (CFSAN), but there are food programs in the Center for Veterinary Medicine, Office of Regulatory Affairs and elsewhere at FDA. He will be responsible for all of them.

Mr. Taylor has all the elements for providing transformational leadership: experience, knowledge, respect, determination and foresight. By bringing leadership to foods, he will eliminate the urgency– and probably the need– for a separate food agency.

Intriguingly, Mike Taylor has been an advocate for a single food agency and there is some question about how that might affect his leadership. It won’t. Some might think his appointment accelerates the move to a separate food agency. It doesn’t.

Circumstances have changed. To continue to advocate for a separate food agency, Mr. Taylor would need to point to activities and policies that would be different and better if done outside FDA. It is hard to imagine what those would be–with him in charge and a supportive Commissioner. Or said another way: neglect, not the organizational structure, has always been the problem.

Things may look different in a couple of years. A new food safety law seems certain to be adopted in 2010. Implementing that law might create new reasons to support a separate food agency.

If so, an additional benefit of Mike Taylor’s appointment would be continuity. His leadership and his structure would be carried over into a new organization. And he would have no trouble being confirmed by the Senate if that were required.

Which leaves one remaining question: will increased attention to food come at the expense of attention needed by the medical products function at FDA? I see no reason to think so. The broad, grassroots push of patient groups for safe and effective treatments has no counterpart on the food side.


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