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Food Safety Update: A Budget Cut Only the Produce Industry Could Love

You’ve probably never heard of the Microbiological Data Program (MDP) but if you eat fresh produce, you should, because it’s currently on President Obama’s budgetary chopping block. The MDP is a small ($5 million annually) pathogen monitoring program tucked away in the U.S. Department of Agriculture. It tests fruits and vegetables for deadly bugs like E. coli, salmonella, and listeria.

While the testing program may be inexpensive, it’s critical because no other federal mechanism currently exists to conduct regular testing of fresh produce. (The Food and Drug Administration—which technically has jurisdiction over produce safety—conducts only limited inspections.)

To date, the MDP has tested high-risk produce such as alfalfa sprouts, cilantro, green onions, peppers, tomatoes, spinach, and other leafy greens. Every one of these vegetables has caused a food-borne illness outbreak or recall over the years, some of them lethal thanks in part to an industrialized food system that transports bugs nationwide. You might recall, a shocking 34 people (and counting) died from a listeria outbreak last year in cantaloupe in 26 states (yes, melon–also on USDA’s tested produce list). That tragedy alone should cause the Obama Administration to rethink this thoughtless budget cut. Read more