A victim of budget cuts, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA’s) Microbiological Data Program, which since 2001 has analyzed samples of select fruits and vegetables for foodborne pathogens, closed down its operations at the beginning of 2013.

The $4.5 million budget for the program was not renewed during the last round of federal budget negotiations, as the Obama administration felt it did not fit within the mission of USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service. The scientists within the program had, for over a decade, collected statistics on levels of pathogens like Listeria and salmonella in local produce.

The now defunct program often collaborated with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) when they found dangerous levels of these threats in food. FDA actually has jurisdiction over the safety of fruits and vegetables, but has exerted little control in this area until the recent publication of rules stemming from the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA).

Critics of the program, including from within the produce industry, claimed over the last year that its efforts came too long after individuals were exposed to pathogens in food, and therefore were of little use. But proponents and those involved with the program cited its ability to trace pathogens back to their place of origin, and the data collected over the long term, as valuable.

Published by WholeFoods Magazine Online (online 1/17/13)