Saturday 24 March 2018

U.S. Could Drop Screening for Deadly Strain of E. coli

The Chicago Tribune reported yesterday the passage of a bill in the house that would eliminate the Microbiological Data Program. If approved by the Senate, the bill could expose Americans to deadly pathogens like the E-Coli outbreak experienced in Europe.

Many may not know about the MDP. The 10year old program tests about “vulnerable produce such as sprouts, lettuce, spinach, tomatoes, cantaloupe and cilantro” for pathogens like salmonella and E.Coli according to the Tribune. The FDA claims that the MDP’s work has lead to 19 recalls over the past 2years.

The MDP is being attacked as a redundant program. Yet that dangerous misnomer is far from true. The MDP tests for non-0157 strains of E Coli not tested for by the FDA. Non-0157 strains are the “mercurial and virulent Shiga toxin-carrying strains of E. coli that contaminated sprouts in Europe” according to the Tribune. That outbreak has killed more than 40 and sickened 4,100. The MDP also tests more than the FDA. The FDA limits its testing to spot checks which results in about 1,000 samples a year. Compare that to the 15,000 samples taken by the MDP in a year and a clear picture emerges of the vulnerability opened by the legislation.

While the MDP is not redundant it still is curious that it is a separate program housed in the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Services arm. The program began in 2001 with funds appropriated under the Federal Agriculture Appropriations Bill for AMS (click here for more information about the program). The MDP’s mandate requires it to coordinate its testing with the FDA and CDC among others. It’s an odd appropriations creature but one that has taken a vital role.

The potential ax of the MDP raises important questions about food safety in the US. It also points to the growing need for a single agency focused on food integrity.


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