USDA to keep produce testing program until the end of 2012

The U.S. Department of Agriculture recently decided to keep its produce testing program in operation until at least the end of the year.

The decision to continue the Microbiological Data Program came after a surge in news coverage about its impending elimination, according to

The program remains the primary means of public testing for pathogens on fruit and vegetables. If the program were ended this month, as scheduled, public testing would drop by approximately 80 percent.

"While the Microbiological Data Program does not align with USDA's core mission, the department will continue its work with state partners using existing agreements to conduct sampling and testing through this program through the end of the year," a USDA spokesman said, reports.

The Obama administration did not request funding for the MDP in its fiscal year 2013 budget request, and Congress has not included the program in any appropriations bills. The administration argued that the $4.5 million safety net does not belong under the Agricultural Marketing Service, where it is currently located, and therefore should not be included in the budget request.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration had not announced any plans to increase produce testing if the MDP were shut down at the end of July as planned. As of last week, state officials who work in MDP labs had not been given any official information regarding the program's future.

Because MDP discoveries can lead to food recalls, the produce industry has long lobbied for its closure. Advocates for eliminating the MDP argue that recalls sparked by the program happen too late to keep tainted products out of the hands of consumers, reports.