Adding momentum to its speeding demise, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Microbiological Data Program was defunded in the agency’s fiscal year 2013 budget passed by the House Appropriations Committee.
The Obama administration targeted the program for elimination earlier this year, and the Senate’s version of the fiscal year 2013 eliminated funding for the MDP as well.
In a report about the appropriations bill, the House committee said scrapping the program will save $4.4 million from the fiscal year 2013 USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service budget.
Dropping the program allows the AMS to “focus on those activities more closely aligned with the core mission and avoid duplication of other Federal Government activities,” according to the committee’s report. Other federal and state agencies are better equipped to test fresh produce for pathogens, according to the report.
The agriculture appropriations bill is expected to be voted on by the full House in coming weeks and eventually be reconciled with agriculture appropriations legislation in the Senate.
The program, which began in 2001, collects information on the prevalence of bacteria on fresh produce. Data is collected from more than 600 food distribution sites in the U.S. and checked for the presence of salmonella, pathogenic E. coli and listeria.
In 2011, about 17,000 samples were collected from cantaloupe, cilantro, hot peppers, lettuce, spinach, sprouts and tomatoes.
State lawmakers in Michigan issued a resolution earlier this year asking for Congress to fund the program, citing 19 produce recalls in the past two years.
As far back as 2002, however, fresh produce industry leaders have expressed concerns about the objective of the program, the validity of the sampling and testing process and how information from the testing could be misunderstood or misused.
The elimination of the program was welcomed by the Washington, D.C.-based United Fresh Produce Association.
“As we said before, we continue to believe that USDA’s MDP program is not the right way to go in terms of a testing program for microbiological testing on fresh produce,” said Robert Guenther, senior vice president of public policy for United Fresh. “Certainly FDA has the tools, resources and capabilities to do this on their own.”
The appropriations committee also axed the $1.8 million Pesticide Record keeping Program and encouraged the USDA AMS to continue funding for the National Organic Program at fiscal year 2012 levels.