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Republicans Ignore E.coli Outbreak And Defund Food Monitoring Program

The ongoing outbreak of illnesses and deaths linked to a new breed of E. coli bacteria is being tracked by the European Food Safety Authority. The infections were due to a strain of E. coli known as STEC O104:H4, which causes bloody diarrhea, severe kidney complications and deaths in some cases. It produces a toxin called Shiga. Although only four related cases have been reported here in the United States, more than 4,100 people have been infected in Europe. About a third of them suffered from liver damage and 49 died.

You might think that congress would be leaping about to make sure that a similar outbreak couldn’t happen here, but you’d be wrong. The House has just passed a bill that will defund the Microbiological Data Program (MDP), a scientific monitoring and tracking project that is specifically designed to look for problems such as the STEC 0104:H4 one. In fact, it’s the only national program in the United States that might have detected the problem before people started getting ill. Without it, finding the source of the problem would have been extremely difficult.

The MDP has triggered product recalls – maybe that’s the problem.
The MDP currently tests about 15,000 annual samples of vulnerable produce, such as cantaloupe, cilantro, lettuce, spinach, sprouts and tomatoes for pathogens including salmonella and several strains of E. coli. The MDP’s findings have triggered at least 19 product recalls over the past two years alone. Food industry lobbyists say that the monitoring is already carried out by other (unnamed) entities, including the large food companies.

It would be nice if that were true, but, in general, it isn’t. if they had been good at their jobs we wouldn’t have had those 19 outbreaks, plus many more due to problems that the MDP can’t yet monitor, or isn’t chartered to. Supporters of the program say that say that the uniformity and efficiency of the program are among its greatest strengths and that outsourcing the work would introduce unacceptable variability in the collected data. Maybe the Republicans want to outsource the work to Mexico, where food-borne infections run rife.

Once again, we’re watching the Republicans act in favor of the large corporations that fund them and against the interests of the public, all of whom are consumers. Let’s hope that the Senate can reverse this decision before we get an outbreak like the one that just hit Europe over here.

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