Non-O157 E. colis – What us worry in the United States? Hell, let’s stop testing produce!

According to French news reports (via Google translator), a 78-year-old Bordeaux woman, unrelated to the group of Bordeaux E. coli O104:H4 cases, died Friday at the University Hospital of Bordeaux after being infected with E. coli O145. At least a dozen other have been sickened in Bordeaux in the past month are part of the group infected with E. coli O104:H4 after attending a carnival on June 8 in Bordeaux (Gironde) where they consumed Egyptian Fenugreek seed sprouts.

A woman aged 65, admitted to the University Hospital of Bordeaux after she was infected with E. coli O104:H4, remained in a “critical” Sunday, while five others remained hospitalized in stable condition, according to the Regional Health Agency (ARS). Five other patients, whose condition is stable, also remained hospitalized in the nephrology unit at the University Hospital for hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), according to ARS. Another person with HUS was released Saturday morning.

spinach Field.jpgOn this side of the pond, we are blissfully awaiting the 4th of July.  Monica Eng, however, of the Chicago Tribune reported today that “U.S. could drop screening for deadly strain of E. coli.” I love her opening paragraphs:

At a time of rising concern over pathogens in produce, Congress is moving to eliminate the only national program that regularly screens U.S. fruits and vegetables for the type of E. coli that recently caused a deadly outbreak in Germany.

The House last month approved a bill that would end funding for the 10-year-old Microbiological Data Program, which tests about 15,000 annual samples of vulnerable produce such as sprouts, lettuce, spinach, tomatoes, cantaloupe and cilantro for pathogens including salmonella and E. coli.

Over the last two years, its findings have triggered at least 19 produce recalls, according to the Food and Drug Administration.

That is a good thing right? Well, apparently not if you are the produce industry. Eng reports:

The commercial produce industry, which has long expressed concerns about the program, this spring suggested ending its $4.5 million funding. In a memo to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, the USDA’s Fruit and Vegetable Industry Advisory Committee complained about “unnecessary recalls” and asked if the funds would be “better utilized elsewhere.”

But defenders of the program note that no other agency tests the same breadth of produce for pathogens. For example, the FDA typically spot-checks about 1,000 samples a year, compared with 15,000 for the Microbiological Data Program. In addition, the only E. coli the FDA tests for is the O157:H7 strain, but the MDP also tests for non-O157 strains that include the increasingly mercurial and virulent Shiga toxin-carrying strains of E. coli that contaminated sprouts in Europe, killing more than 40 (sic 50) and sickening (sic over) 4,100. 

Eliminating the program “may serve the interests of agribusiness, but it’s a serious disservice to consumers and public health,” said Ken Cook, president of Environmental Working Group, a consumer advocacy organization. “Since when does it make sense not to check food for potentially deadly pathogens?”

Yes, let’s eliminate programs that save lives, but put a cramp in the industry’s style? Didn’t they learn a thing from 2006? Read Monica Eng’s FULL STORY.  I talked about the same issue – “Is cutting government always a good idea?” a few weeks ago – but, I am not the Chicago Tribune.