National Editor Tom Karst
National Editor Tom Karst

Not everybody is ready to give the boot to MDP.

With the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Microbiological Data Program recommended for elimination by both the Obama Administration and the Senate Appropriations Committee, a dozen lawmakers in Michigan’s House have sponsored a resolution urging Congress and the President to continue funding the controversial program for fiscal year 2013.

That probably won't happen, but you have to admire the fact that Michigan's lawmakers are paying attention.

Michigan House Resolution 265, pending before the Michigan House Agriculture Committee, noted that Michigan is one of eleven states that participate in the testing program.

“MDP tests have triggered 19 produce recalls in the past two years. A loss of funding could impact the timeliness of response to foodborne illness outbreaks,” the resolution states.

Rep. Phil Potvin, R-Cadillac, is the chief sponsor of the resolution.

The program, which began in 2001, collects information on the prevalence of harmful bacteria in fresh produce. Data is collected from more than 600 food distribution sites in the United States and checked for the presence of salmonella, pathogenic E. coli and listeria.

In 2011, approximately 17,000 samples were collected from cantaloupe, cilantro, hot peppers, lettuce, spinach, sprouts, and tomatoes, according to the resolution sponsored by Potvin.

The resolution said that the MDP annual budget of $5 million allows the USDA laboratories, including a laboratory in Michigan, to maintain experienced staff, keep current with changing technologies and increase the number of samples tested each year.

Calling MDP an “early warning system,” the resolution said that with it the USDA and Michigan are able to promote a safer food supply.

Industry critics say MDP has problems that warrant its elimination.

Kathy Means, vice president of government relations and public affairs for Newark, Del.-based Produce Marketing Association, said the program duplicates work the industry and the FDA already are engaged in. She also said the MDP testing isn’t timely enough to be an effective recall mechanism in the event a pathogens are found on produce.

“If (testing) is going to continue to be used as a regulatory tool, then it needs to be done at FDA,” said Robert Guenther, senior vice president of public policy for the Washington, D.C.-based United Fresh Produce Association.

MDP isn't gone yet, but Michigan's support for the program isn't likely to tip the scales in its favor.