Lester M. Crawford, who resigned mysteriously last fall just two months after being confirmed as commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, will plead guilty today to charges that he hid his ownership of stock in food and drug companies that his agency regulated, his lawyer said.As an example of the conflict of interest, Crawford or his wife held previously undisclosed Pepsico stock during the period that he chaired FDA's Obesity Working Group, which released a 2004 report with fairly mild policy proposals, such as increasing the font size for the calorie count on the Nutrition Facts label for manufactured foods and encouraging entirely voluntary nutrition facts disclosure for restaurants.
A veterinarian by background, Crawford was administrator of USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service during the late 1980s and early 1990s. My boss at the Community Nutrition Institute during part of that period, Rodney Leonard, had been administrator of FSIS some years earlier, and was glad to speak on the topic of Lester Crawford with perhaps more fiery clarity than impartiality. Sometimes hearing just one end of such telephone conversations from the adjoining office, I would be astonished. Here is a brief from the Multinational Monitor in the early 1990s on the occasion of Crawford's resignation from FSIS to take a job with the National Food Processors Association:
Food safety advocates are not surprised by Crawford's move. Rod Leonard, executive director of the Community Nutrition Institute and a former administrator of FSIS, says that Crawford has pursued a "typical career of industry representation," working first for the poultry and drug industries, then coming to Washington to work for the Food and Drug Administration and FSIS and now returning to an industry association.
Crawford served business well, Leonard says. "Rather than try to improve the quality of poultry inspection and therefore the wholesomeness of food," Leonard argues, Crawford "worked in exactly the opposite direction" by heading up "the effort of the Reagan and Bush administrations to deregulate meat and poultry inspection."
Leonard believes that Crawford probably chose to leave the Department of Agriculture because he had "used up his credibility with Congress" and was "no longer ... useful to industry or to the administration."