While its demise still seems sure, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Microbiological Data Program will continue through the end of the year.
“While the Microbiological Data Program does not align with USDA’s core mission, the department will continue its work with state partners using existing agreements to conduct sampling and testing through this program through the end of the year,” according to a news release from the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service.
The Obama administration targeted the program for elimination earlier this year, and both the House and Senate version of the fiscal year 2013 USDA budget eliminated funding for the program.
The decision to defund the MDP rankled some consumer groups, who argued that elimination of the $4.5 million program would hurt food safety and traceback efforts.
A change.org petition was recently launched calling on the White House to reinstate funding for the program.
Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., also has lobbied for the USDA to keep the funding in place.
The program, which began in 2001, collects information on the prevalence of bacteria on fresh produce from more than 600 food distribution sites in 11 U.S. states.
As far back as 2002, fresh produce industry leaders expressed concern about the timeliness and validity of the sampling and testing process and how the information could be misinterpreted or misused.
David Gombas, senior vice president of food safety and technology for Washington, D.C.-based United Fresh Produce Association, said it is a myth that the program protects consumers.
“Everybody wants it to be the food safety program that protects consumers and gets bad actors out of the system, but it doesn’t do any of that,” he said.
United Fresh and other industry advocates have argued that produce safety testing oversight lies with the FDA, not the USDA.