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Utahns question Obama's plan to cut food inspection program


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MILLCREEK — Few things are as important to our families as what we eat. Now President Obama wants to drop a federal program that tests the safety of our food, and some Utahns aren't happy about it.

Most people remember the cantaloupe listeria outbreak in 2011, and Utahns especially remember the 2006 E. coli outbreak linked to spinach that made some 200 Utahns sick.

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For now, batches of fruits and vegetables from all over the country are randomly tested for bacteria by a small group within the U.S. Department of Agriculture. It's called the Microbiological Data Program.

The group informs produce companies of problems within those batches and even prompts recalls to make sure things like E. coli and listeria don't make it to your doorstep, or dinner table.

"I rely on that. I rely on that safety measure," said Millcreek resident Marian Marriott. "And if that was gone, that would be really scary."

At a relatively cheap cost to "John Q. Taxpayer," some are questioning the move to cut the program out of the budget —p people like Bill Marler, who is an attorney specializing in food borne illness.


For the amount of money, $5 million a year, to cut this when we're also adding $900 billion to the deficit, it's really a penny wise and a pound foolish.

–Bill Marler, attorney


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"For the amount of money, $5 million a year, to cut this when we're also adding $900 billion to the deficit, it's really a penny wise and a pound foolish," Marler said.

Produce companies are lobbying hard to get the program shut down. Why? Because Marler says they'd rather ask for forgiveness with a check than prevent future problems with this program.

"In that (2006) outbreak, just in the 200 people that became sickened, cost the spinach and lettuce industry upwards of $150 million," Marler said.

The attorney says this is a real public relations battle. The produce companies pay a lot of people a lot of money to protect their interests. The more food they push out, the more money they make. Programs that test produce and can pinpoint their origin if contaminated can cost those companies millions of dollars.

Email: awittenberg@ksl.com

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Andrew Wittenberg

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