Obama food safety chief and former Monsanto lawyer Michael R. Taylor today defended the FDA’s sting operations and armed raids against raw milk producers, including Pennsylvania Amish farmer Dan Allgyer, who is facing an injunction for selling milk across state lines. None of Allgyer’s milk was contaminated. The agency’s actions are likely to put him out of business.
“We believe we’re doing our job,” Taylor said at a presentation at the Ogilvy Washington public affairs group. He promised to “keep doing our public health job,” and described his agency’s campaign against raw milk producers as based on a “public health duty” and “statutory directive.”
Taylor said he had a “quibble” with the notion that the agency is spending too much of its resources targeting boutique raw milk producers even as huge contamination outbreaks have occurred among large Iowa egg farms and elsewhere.
The FDA is in the midst of writing the critical regulations that will implement the Food Safety Modernization Act Congress passed last year with applause all around from the Obama administration, Democrats and Republicans despite ferocious opposition from small-farm advocates. The sweeping new law gives the agency extraordinary powers to detain foods on farms. It also denies farmers recourse to federal courts.
On July 3, the agency will issue its new rule to detain any food it believes is unsafe, or, more critically, “mislabeled.” In Allgyer’s case, the entire FDA case rests on a technical violation of a ban on interstate commerce in raw milk and alleged mislabeling.
Before the new law, the FDA could only impound food when it had credible evidence the food was contaminated or posed a public health hazard. The detention powers are part of what Taylor described as a new agency focus on preventing food poisoning outbreaks rather than responding to them after the fact. Taylor described the new law as giving the agency “farm to table” control over food safety.
Taylor outlined an aggressive approach, saying he would seek a “high rate of compliance” with new food safety rules, touted the agency’s “whole new inspection and compliance tool kit,” including access to farm records, mandatory recall authority, and enforcement actions that can be accomplished administratively, “without having to go to court.” He said the agency can now also revoke a farm’s mandatory registration (also a new requirement under the law), meaning the FDA can put any farm it finds in violation of any food safety rule out of business.
Big new regulations are coming down the pike on produce. Taylor said these would to some extent follow existing industry safety standards, some of which seek an almost sterile farm environment and have reversed many taxpayer-financed farm conservation efforts.