R.I.P., MDP

11/16/2012 09:54:00 AM
The Packer Editorial Board

The shelf life of government programs often proves surprisingly long, with regulatory departments suffering mission creep or outlasting the issue they were created to address.

Fortunately for fresh vegetable and fruit shippers, the Microbiological Data Program isn’t one of them and is dying young.

Industry trade organizations and others were wary of the program since it began 11 years ago.

Within a year of MDP’s arrival, numerous associations were criticizing the program for raising serious scientific policy concerns as well as expressing frustration about the feedback process on testing.

MDP’s demise will free up $4.4 million each year in the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Marketing Service budget, which ideally will be rechanneled to other specialty crop program needs at USDA.

Another knock on MDP was that while pathogen data collected under the testing regime was not intended to be a recall trigger, it sometimes was.

With passage of the Food Safety Modernization Act into law in 2011, the Food and Drug Administration was sworn in to play to role of food safety police that MDP in scope and practice failed to achieve.

While many key aspects of FSMA implementation — most important to the produce industry, financial and legal obligations related to imports and inspections — are being debated and worked out, the law clearly empowers FDA, making MDP’s continued existence redundant at best and likely pointless in preventing foodborne illness outbreaks and ensuring public confidence in fresh produce safety.

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