MICHAEL R. TAYLOR — A RETURN PERFORMANCE?
I HAD ASKED ONLY THREE OF MY 10 PREPARED QUESTIONS when the voice on the other end of the phone interrupted.
“All right, Kevin. That’s enough. That’s good,” said the man. “I’ll see you tomorrow morning at 8:30 a.m.”
I hung up the phone and smiled. Somehow, through the grace of God and a wee bit of trickery, I had just secured an interview with Michael R. Taylor, Deputy Commissioner for Policy with the FDA. The year was 1993, and the agency had been pushing back hard on the general public’s thirst for vitamins and alternative medicines. FDA was locked in a fierce battle with consumers over access to dietary supplements, and the era has become known as ‘The Vitamin Wars” of 1993-94.
And now I was going to be right in the middle of the fight — and interviewing the FDAs second-in-Command.
I recall this today not because I want to regale you with tales of my journalistic wizardry, but as a consequence of the news that President-Elect Obama — or someone close to him — has hired Michael R. Taylor to head his transition team for agriculture and energy.
Believe me when I say that this is not “Change We Can Believe In,” and if Taylor plays a similar role in an Obama administration come January 20th, it is a dire warning to millions of health freedom advocates and proponents of FDA reform.
Michael R. Taylor was Deputy Director of FDA during the reign of David Kessler, an MD who argued passionately against allowing a truthful health claim that the beneficial B-vitamin Folic Acid can prevent certain birth defects. In his appearance before a Congressional Oversight Committee, Dr. Kessler argued ad nauseum with Senators, “if we don’t get the dose right with Folic Acid” that it would cause something paramount to death and destruction for the planet.
As with so many other vital nutrients, Kessler and FDA had stonewalled Folic Acid for 17 years before finally admitting — kicking and screaming as he left office under a cloud of suspicion — that 400 micrograms of Folic Acid could indeed prevent birth defects. These birth defects are called neural tube defects, or NTDs, and it has been proven that women need to take folic acid every day starting before they are pregnant to help prevent Spina Bifida.
The cure for NTDs cost less than two cents as a vitamin supplement, but Kessler couldn’t bring himself to recommend that American women of childbearing age take a VITAMIN. The FDAs unwillingness to do meant that at least 30,000 women delivered babies with Spina Bifida over a 17 year period — and if that’s not considered a crime, I don’t know what qualifies.
Seated next to the esteemed Dr. Kessler was his right hand man — Michael R. Taylor — a ‘public servant’ who knew his way around Washington, not to mention the halls of Monsanto. Prior to FDA, you see, Taylor worked as part of Monsanto’s legal team. While at FDA, he began to usher in that company’s agenda on genetically modified organisms like rBgh — Recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone. The hormone is injected into most cows — and makes its way into our beef, cheese, and milk supplies.
YET IN 1993, I was in the middle of producing LET TRUTH BE THE BIAS and the FDA really made me jump through hoops to get the interview with Taylor. Caught in the middle of the “Vitamin Wars,” they were trying desperately to deliver a legislative knockout punch to Dietary Supplements, and so they took every media opportunity available to rail about unsafe vitamins and herbs. When I phoned in my request, though, I was an unknown entity —and they said I must submit to a pre-interview by phone in order to meet my request. One day later, I prepared a list of questions and made the phone call that was to determine whether I would be granted an interview at FDA headquarters.
Over the phone, the “trickery” — I call them journalistic instincts — kicked in. I began with a softball question, asking Mr. Taylor to outline the FDAs case against dietary supplements.
“Next question,” Taylor barked, so I tossed another softball.
On the third question I added sarcasm and disbelief to my voice for Mr. Taylor’s benefit. “Mr. Taylor, these so-called leaders of the Vitamin movement actually say that FDA wants to regulate vitamins and minerals as drugs…”
Taylor interrupted me again and proceeded to deliver two minutes worth of FDA policy explanations. When I began to ask the fourth question, Mr. Taylor had heard enough. “This is one journalist,” he must have thought, “that is on my side,” so he granted the interview at 8:30 the following morning. I called my crew and told them we would leave for Washington D.C. immediately.
That evening, as fate would have it, the suburban Maryland hotel where we stayed seemed to get only CNN on their televisions. At 9pm, Larry King Live came on the air, and much to my amazement, there was Michael R. Taylor, via satellite. When he slammed Dr. Jonathan Wright, the famous holistic MD whose clinic was victim of a guns-drawn raid orchestrated by FDA in 1992, I knew what I had to do. With the interview now less than twelve hours away, I decided to use the FDAs own words and literature against them.
What transpired is, to this day, the only on-camera interview about alternative medicines with an FDA executive.
By the time Michael Taylor looked at me and said, “Turn the camera off so we can talk,” well, as my Dad used to say, “things went to Hell in a handbasket in a hurry.”
We didn’t “turn off the camera,” of course. Before the interview began, I had discussed this exact scenario with my cameraman, a veteran of 60 Minutes and numerous news programs. No one short of Idi Amin — and perhaps not even that dictator — could get him to turn off his camera. “In fact,” he laughed, “that’s when I usually zoom in for a closeup.”
To the best of my knowledge, mine was the final interview Michael Taylor ever participated in. Within months, Taylor was ‘transferred’ to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, where he continued the spread the Gospel of Monsanto’s rBgh, because, after all, what better place to affect veterinary medicine from than the Department of Agriculture?
So with no public hearings, and based on only 90 days of shoddy testing — rBgh became part of the food supply.
It was Michael R. Taylor’s finest hour in ‘public service.’
Since his mission was accomplished at FDA and the Department of Agriculture, Taylor he moved back to the law firm representing Monsanto, thus completing the circle. As a bonus, consumers were largely unaware that they were feeding their kids buckets of rBgh-laced milk. Monsanto wanted no labelling of their milk and they got it.
Michael R. Taylor had done his job well.
So it is appropos – even karmic – that Michael Taylor’s name resurfaces now for the first time in a decade. For not only did he star in LET TRUTH BE THE BIAS in 1994, he makes a return performance once again in GENERATION RX, as I grill him about Prozac.
For years, after his appearance in LET TRUTH BE THE BIAS and Taylor’s subsequent departure from FDA, many credited my film as one of the reasons Mr. Taylor had been forced to leave FDA. I can only hope that there is some truth to that assertion.
My prayer now is that my new film, GENERATION RX will help to drive Taylor out of the arms of President-elect Obama — and back to Monsanto, where he truly belongs.
From there, at least, he’ll know whom he’s supposed to be fighting for.