"U.S. Could Drop Screening for Deadly Strain of E. Coli"

"At a time of rising concern over pathogens in produce, Congress is moving to eliminate the only national program that regularly screens U.S. fruits and vegetables for the type of E. coli that recently caused a deadly outbreak in Germany.

The House last month approved a bill that would end funding for the 10-year-old Microbiological Data Program, which tests about 15,000 annual samples of vulnerable produce such as sprouts, lettuce, spinach, tomatoes, cantaloupe and cilantro for pathogens including salmonella and E. coli."

Over the last two years, its findings have triggered at least 19 produce recalls, according to the Food and Drug Administration.

The commercial produce industry, which has long expressed concerns about the program, this spring suggested ending its $4.5 million funding. In a memo to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, the USDA's Fruit and Vegetable Industry Advisory Committee complained about "unnecessary recalls" and asked if the funds would be "better utilized elsewhere."

Monica Eng reports for the Chicago Tribune July 4, 2011.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011