I get a lot of emails and comments, most saying things that I tend not to print.  However, this email I got this morning is one of the more disturbing one I have received lately:

There is a program run by USDA called the microbiological data program (MDP) (www.ams.usda.gov/mdp).

Screen shot 2011-06-17 at 7.49.32 AM.pngThis program collects fresh produce samples from distribution centers and terminal markets from key states across the US and test them for pathogens (salmonella and shiga toxin carrying e coli). The produce industry hates this program as it has found pathogens in domestic and imported samples and FDA has responded to the information and recalled products. The produce industry via the USDA Fruit and vegetable advisory committee recommended to USDA and congress that the program be terminated (http://www.ams.usda.gov/AMSv1.0/getfile?dDocName=STELPRDC5090885). Congress, yielding to industry pressure is going along with this (http://www.appropriations.house.gov/UploadedFiles/FY_2012_AGRICULTURE_FULL_COMMITTEE_REPORT.pdf see pg 20-21).

MDP cost the taxpayers $4.5 million dollars a year to operate. For the past 3 years, they have been testing 15,000 samples a year (both domestic and imports, organic and conventional, pre-washed and unwashed). In comparison, FDA, who has regulatory responsibility and gets substantial funds to perform food safety activities, has only conducted domestic surveys in 1999,2001, and 2005 testing only a about 1000 samples of multiple commodities (so a few samples of each commodity) (http://www.fda.gov/Food/FoodSafety/Product-SpecificInformation/FruitsVegetablesJuices/GuidanceComplianceRegulatoryInformation/ucm118306.htm). FDA primarily test only at the ports of entry and then less than 1% of the food coming across the boarder.

With the current outbreak in Europe with a pathogenic e. coli, our elected congressional leaders want to shut down this program? This program actually test for STEC’s

The idea of MDP is surveillance, HACCP alone without testing to verify it is working is worthless.

This is a program that works, actually serves a purpose and is efficiently run ($4.5 million). FDA heavily uses the MDP data.

Any help would be most welcome. The produce industry is very powerful. We the American public need this program.

We have not had a major leafy green outbreak since the Spinach and then Taco Bell Outbreaks in 2006.  Does not that argue for keeping a testing program in place?  Sure, there likely have been recalls or product withdraws, but isn’t getting tainted product out of the market a good thing?

It appears that the Republican’s continue to accept the belief that the free market will solve all ills despite the 48,000,000 reasons yearly that it is not the case. As Lyndsey Layton reported:

Rep. Jack Kingston (R-Ga.), chairman of the House subcommittee that wrote the agriculture appropriations bill, said the cuts to food safety were justified because the nation’s food supply was “99.99 percent safe.”

“Do we believe that McDonald’s and Kentucky Fried Chicken and Safeway and Kraft Food and any brand name that you think of, that these people aren’t concerned about food safety?” Kingston said on the House floor. “The food supply in America is very safe because the private sector self-polices, because they have the highest motivation. They don’t want to be sued, they don’t want to go broke. They want their customers to be healthy and happy.”

I appreciate that Rep Kingston likes this trial lawyer so much. However, the last line of defense should not be civil litigation. It is a blunt instrument for change.

I am heading to the airport to attend the National Environmental Health Association.  Anyone in the “real” media want to take a crack at this?

  • Gabrielle Meunier

    Penny wise. Pound FOOLISH.

  • dangermaus

    I’ve said it before, Congress isn’t interested in safe food. They’re only interested in looking like they are. Things like FSMA are generally nothing more than gestures for niche voters and lobbyists – “Let’s look like we’re being proactive in the wake of movie- and literary-hyped outrage against negligence in big agriculture by doing something that can be looked at like we’re getting tough on them” (and then they introduced a bill that only big agriculture was really prepared to deal with, and was hardest on small-scale, locally-oriented farmers).
    Congress isn’t even willing to fight for the policies that were already in place before that. They’re a bunch of short-sighted prima donnas that don’t care about anything but how they look in the current news cycle. It amazes me that people still keep going to Washington, looking for to them to fix things like this. They don’t, they can’t, they won’t, they don’t want to… They just want you to keep them in office and will do anything to stay there.

  • 3,000 died in the 911 attacks and we have spent god knows how many billions to protect us? How many people have died in Iraq and Afghanistan – soldiers and civilians? And, the R’s can not seem to pull together $1.5 billion over 5 years to TRY and make our food system a bit safer for the 3,000 that die EACH YEAR?
    dangermaus – I tend to agree with you on what congress has become – its a press release factory.

  • Dog Doctor

    I think we passed billions a long time ago and are well into the trillions now. It was unfortunate the Bush administration didn’t start worrying about food safety until after the spinach outbreak when they were concerned about their legacy. The number of enforcements actions between 2000 and 2006 was almost exactly half and so was the staff.
    The one upside to cutting funding is that we will have fewer outbreaks since no one will be there to investigate them. There is an article in the American Journal of Epidemiology back in the 80’s entitled “Do Epidemiologists cause Epidemics”.
    I find it very sad that some people are fixed on one issue that they don’t look at the whole picture a number of people say they will not vote for Obama because of FSMA, have they really look at the alternatives? Has the Tea party and their friends really provided any more freedom or jobs? They extended the patriot act and they have made it harder to vote and just plain harder to survive. Are they really going to be better than Obama?
    Of course these are the same folks who blame you for Scott Walker, I gues that really shows they don’t want to take responsibility for their own actions and choices.

  • lifeinorange

    Actually, big business isn’t concern either with actual food safety. We may have the greatest food safety system in the world, however, corporations are only concern with “the bottom line”, and that line is with there share holders / owners and yearly bonuses. They too do not want to take (it appears) any responsibility…..until of course, until someone they know directly or a family member dies due to plain supidity on their part. It’s just like the last place I worked, the county wanted health inspectors to hand out “permission slips” to dumb-A$$ retirees to have food function gatherings to sell food to the public that was prepared / made in members private homes, all because of the economy (this is and remains one of the top five poorest counties in California…..can you imagine) and yet when told that this kind of activity is illegal in California and else where in the REAL more civilized world, administration backed the complainers, the good-ole boys / girls, the locals who have “always” conducted this activity, and had permission as well from others, The “pilars-of-the-community-types”, until “a-new- comer-came-to-town” and blew the whistle. I could not for the sake of God, educate, speak, train or inform in any manner “these people”. When asked if they were willing to release all liability and responsibility from the county to protect the county from liability law suits, in order to get a permit, they complained to upper management / board of “supidvisors”. They, like corporate america are no different, until again, “THEY” are injured, THEN they want “the governmen” to do something, because of there tax paying statis. And yes, these are also your ” all American, extreme religious, right – wing, obama hating, I-hate-government, give-me-my-guns, I-want-my-freedoms, sarah palin loving types” who don’t know (but believe, me they think they do) there “A$$” from crater lake. These are the “Americans” we in the public health arena are dealing with and the so called “managers / directors” who are supposto to know better……but they don’t. [This is in parallel to the recent “federal / states mandate on swimming / pool and spa entrapment drain covers….once someone of importance gets killed / injured, then people want government action].

  • Laura Giudici Mills

    Bill, You may have have overlooked the FDA’s implementation of a 5-year leafy greens pathogen surveillance testing program in 2010. 4000 samples are processed annually. Retail bags of iceberg lettuce, romaine, spinach, etc. are sampled and tested for E.coli 0157:H7, Listeria monocytogenes, non-0157 Stec and Salmonella. I encourage you to discuss this program with our industry and FDA. The USDA MDP Program and FDA Pathogen Surveillance Program fail to effectively protect public health because the samples are generally collected when the leafy greens are at or near the end of their shelf life. Most of the products have been purchased, consumed or removed from retail and foodservice distribution channels. Therefore, at this point, when a sample tests positive for a pathogen under either of these programs, the product recall and susequent investigation by FDA does little to protect consumers.

  • st

    I believe the salmonella and e-coli food illnesses and deaths are coming from microbial bio-control products as every crop that has had salmonella and/or e-coli found; are shown to have the approval from the EPA for the products to be used on them.
    QUOTE: “After fermentation and prior to further processing, each batch must be tested for the following microbial contaminants and have levels below those listed”:
    ”E. coli Coliform Bacteria”
    http://www.biotechawareness.com/images/conditional_registration_aq_qst_713_2000_copy.pdf (you may have to reduce your screen size)
    And then there is the link to the melamine scare: The capsules that ‘encapsulate these bio-control products have been using melamine in the production of the capsules that encapsulate the LIVING fungus, bacteria, virus) for long term pest control in biopesticides, biofungicides, bioinsecticides etc. for a long time. I refer you to only one patent which reveals this; United States Patent 6,506,397; (Microcapsule according to claim 21, wherein said capsule shell is formed by condensation of formaldehyde with at least one of urea and MELAMINE.)
    QUOTE: “Simultaneous production of biopesticide and alkaline proteases by Bacillus thuringiensis USING SEWAGE SLUDGE as a raw material.”
    * Tyagi RD,
    * Sikati Foko V,
    * Barnabe S,
    * Vidyarthi AS,
    * Valero JR,
    * Surampalli RY.
    INRS-Eau, 2700 rue Einstein, Sainte-Foy, Quebec, Canada G1 V 4C7. tyagi@inrs-eau.uquebec.ca
    The simultaneous production of Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) based biopesticide and proteases was studied using synthetic medium and wastewater sludge as a raw material.”…”Thus, the wastewater sludge is a better raw material than commercial Soya medium for the biopesticides and enzyme production.”
    PMID: 12479478 [PubMed – indexed for MEDLINE (END OF QUOTE)
    I invite everyone to read the February 23, 2009 OPEN LETTER TO USDA/APHIS; REGULATORY ANALYSIS AND DEVELOPMENT on the dangers of not only GMO’s, that are being used on our crops and also used for insect control, but the non GMO’s that are being used.
    There is definitely a lack of safety and oversight by government agencies; as you will see in the reply letter from the USDA (NOTE: Although APHIS received the 2/23/2009 letter from Trend on 2/27/2009, it was because United States President Obama had contacted them that the USDA replied to Trend.