The Microbiological Data Program, which used to conduct 80 percent of all federal produce testing for pathogens like Salmonella and Listeria, officially shut down on December 31, a U.S. Department of Agriculture official confirmed.
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 program, were told to wrap up their sampling and submit their data. The scientists running MDP within AMS have been assigned to other programs.
While MDP, which launched under the Bush administration in 2001, was designed for data surveillance to monitor the overall prevalence of pathogens in certain commodities, the program also reported positive findings to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, 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.
Some food safety advocates, like Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) pushed to keep the program because no other agency is slated to pick up the slack and provide valuable data about the contamination rates of different commodities.
According to an analysis published by Food Safety News last summer, though FDA has jurisdiction over the safety of fruits and vegetables, the agency only conducts a fraction of the microbiological tests that MDP once did.
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