A relatively small government food-safety program that tests thousands of produce samples each year for salmonella and other foodborne illnesses was spared the ax on Monday, according to the Associated Press. The program, which is run through the auspices of the USDA, had been threatened with closure following funding cuts approved by President Barack Obama for the 2013 federal budget.
The program, known as the Microbiological Data Program (MDP) ends up conducting approximately 80 percent of the tests on produce each year in the U.S., according to a report by Food Safety News. That testing led to the discovery in April of salmonella-tainted bags of spinach, which in turn sparked a recall of the product.
Here is some of the key information regarding the MDP and its funding.
* The MDP specifically tests for pathogens in produce. Other governmental programs are responsible for testing for contamination in meat and poultry.
* The MDP will cost taxpayers approximately $4.3 million in federal funding this year, according to the Chicago Tribune. That funding was reportedly eliminated in the proposed budget for 2013, and Congress has not requested funding for it in 2014 either.
* The MDP operates under the USDA's Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS). Critics, including Obama, have charged that the Food and Drug Administration would be better suited to test for contamination in produce.
* Growers' associations, including the United Fresh Produce Association, have lobbied for years to get the program eliminated, charging that it harms farmers both directly affected by recalls and others that are not responsible for contaminated produce, according to the Associated Press report.
* The United Fresh Produce Association wants more of the food-safety testing to be conducted within the private sector. It also has publicly supported giving the task to the FDA instead, according to ABC News.
* A spokesman for the USDA told Food Safety News on Monday night that "While the Microbiological Data Program does not align with USDA's core mission, the department will continue its work with state partners using existing agreements to conduct sampling and testing through this program through the end of the year."
* The MDP has not been guaranteed funding past December of this year. Funding to continue the program for the next five months was reportedly scraped together by the U.S. Agriculture Department at the last minute.
* U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) told the Associated Press on Monday that she was "glad to hear the program will continue," and vowed to keep pushing for funding for the program to continue past December.
Vanessa Evans is a musician and freelance writer based in Michigan, with a lifelong interest in health and nutrition issues.
- Politics & Government
- President Barack Obama