A Little Program That Keeps Our Food Safe
U.S. Department of Agriculture's Microbiological Data Program (MDP) is one of the main tools in the public arsenal against food borne illness, which are found in primarily raw foods, either meat or vegetable. Sometimes this food ends up in our grocery stores, and then on dinner tables.
Created in 2001, the MDP funds labs in 11 states, including Minnesota, which represent about 50% of agricultural output in the U.S. Overall these labs take 15,000 random food samples. Test results are uploaded to the CDC’s PulseNet database where the strain can be matched with other cases around the nation.
However, the MDP is facing cuts to its $5 million budget. Officials in the Obama administration say this is a "lower-priority program because it is has a low impact and is not central to the core mission of AMS [agricultural marketing service], which is to facilitate the competitive and efficient marketing of agricultural products."
However, compared to other watchdog agencies, no one stacks up quite as well. The Food and Drug Administration only takes about a 1000 samples, and only tests for one strain of E. coli. Additionally, the MDP is one of the few organizations that tests produce. In two years, their testing has resulted in 19 recalls.
Gary Horvath, Director of the Laboratory Services Division at Minnesota's Department of Agriculture, says this would be about a $310,000 budget cut, impacting about two staffers and critical equipment.
Luckily for Minnesota, Horvath’s department is not exclusively dependent on the MDP for funds. Horvath says, “The department would still be well positioned to respond to a food-borne outbreak in produce if we lose MDP.”
He warned, however, “we will not have quite the capacity we do now.” According to Horvath, Minnesota is positioned better than other states who rely exclusively on MDP funds.
While this is a cut to valuable program, it can be fixed by transferring administration of the funds to another agency such as the FDA. That would help us find efficiencies in the system without sacrificing food safety.