FOOD SAFETY SCAN: USDA produce testing ending, food whistleblower protection

Nov 14, 2012

USDA produce testing program starting to shut down
A produce safety testing program run by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) has gone into "shutdown mode," with the aim of going out of business by Dec 31, Food Safety News (FSN) reported yesterday. The $4.5 million Microbiological Data Program, operated by the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), now accounts for more than 80% of government testing of produce, according to an FSN analysis published earlier. AMS officials told states that participate in the program to stop collecting produce samples Nov 16 to ensure an orderly shutdown of the program by Dec 31, the story said. The Obama administration did not seek funding for the program in its last budget request, saying it has a low impact and is not central to the core mission of the AMS. The report said it is not clear whether the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is willing or able to take over the program's mission. An AMS official told FSN that the agency is discussing the matter with the FDA but gave no details. According to the earlier FSN analysis, the program has sparked many produce recalls when state labs found contaminated produce. An FDA official said the agency would continue to test produce but acknowledged that it doesn't do as much sampling as the AMS program has done.
Nov 13 FSN report

Whistleblower bill will protect federal workers in food safety
A bill that has cleared Congress is designed to improve protection for whistleblowers working in the federal government, including those in agencies responsible for food safety, such as the USDA and the FDA. The bill, called the Whistleblower Protection enhancement Act, passed the House in September and won unanimous approval in the Senate yesterday, according to a statement from the Government Accountability Project (GAP), a nonprofit advocacy group. The bill closes loopholes and strengthens various measures that are currently weak, the group said. Among other things, the measure will shield federal whistleblowers even when they are not the first person to report misconduct or do not have ironclad proof of wrongdoing, according to GAP. As a hypothetical example of the law's effects, GAP said it would protect an FDA inspector who tries to expose falsification of Salmonella records at a cantaloupe farm. The organization said it has heard from many federal workers in recent years who wanted to expose food industry wrongdoing or threats to public health, but stayed silent for fear of retaliation.
Nov 13 GAP statement

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