USDA program shutdown halts pathogen testing for produce

January 4, 2013

According to Food Safety News, the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture has shut down the Microbiological Data Program (MDP), which used to conduct 80% of all federal produce testing for pathogens like Salmonella and Listeria. The $4.5 million program had been in shutdown mode since mid-November. State agriculture departments, which tested samples of leafy greens, melons, tomatoes, and peppers for the Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) program, were told to wrap up their sampling and submit their data. The scientists running MDP within AMS have been assigned to other programs.

MDP was launched under the Bush administration in 2001 and was designed for data surveillance to monitor the overall prevalence of pathogens in certain commodities. However, the program also reported positive findings to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which would often result in recalls.

The produce industry lobbied to eliminate MDP, arguing that it did not benefit public health because the recalls were often announced after the product was expired or already consumed by consumers. The Obama administration asked Congress to cut the testing program because it does not fit within the mission of AMS, which is focused on agriculture marketing. Congress did not fund the program in the last round of appropriations.

Food Safety News article