Congress is poised to scrap funding for the only program that consistently tests select vegetables and fruit for pathogens — an initiative that’s led to about 30 recalls since 2009.
The Agriculture Department, which runs the Microbiological Data Program, says getting rid of it is a necessary belt-tightening measure during tough fiscal times. USDA officials have suggested that the initiative would be a better fit for the Food and Drug Administration, which regulates vegetables and fruits. But that agency lacks the money needed to marshal more inspectors, and there’s no sign that the program will be moved there.
President Obama did not request funds for the 11-year-old program in his most recent budget, and the House and Senate did not include any in the agriculture spending bills they’ve crafted.
Meanwhile, evidence has been mounting for at least a decade that fresh vegetables and fruit are a major source of food-borne illness. Deadly outbreaks linked to spinach and cantaloupe in recent years only underscore the risks. Last year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that vegetables that grow on vines and stalks ranked second on a list of foods linked to the most illnesses, topped only by fruits and nuts.