In a televised interviewyesterday, Bill Marler voiced criticism of the proposed cut of an important USDA food safety program in the new Federal budget. The program is called the Microbiological Data Program. Through the program, USDA officials randomly test vegetables from all over the country for the presence of harmful bacteria. Companies are informed of problem batches, and recalls may result.
Marler pointed out that the value of the program greatly outstrips the related cost:
“For the amount of money, $5 million a year, to cut this when we’re also adding $900 billion to the deficit, it’s really a penny wise and a pound foolish,” Marler said.
Produce companies are pushing to axe the program. Marler says they’d rather ask for forgiveness with a check than prevent future problems with this program.
“In the [2006 Spinach E. coli] outbreak, just in the 200 people that became sickened, cost the spinach and lettuce industry upwards of $150 million,” Marler said.
Outbreaks from produce are not just a thing of the past though. This week, the CDC announced an outbreak of the rare E. coli O26 connected to sprouts that sickened 12 people in 5 states.
And of course, last fall, the listeria cantaloupe outbreak sickened 146 in 38 states.