E. Coli

Trump delays farm-water testing. Americans get E. Coli

Donald Trump is making us sick—and I mean that literally. Some food experts are claiming that the recent outbreak of E.Coli contamination in Romaine lettuce may be directly linked to the Trump administration’s disdain for the Food and Drug Administration,  and particularly its health-ensuring regulations.

Specifically, the regulations in play in the Romaine lettuce issue are the ones pertaining to the safety of water used to irrigate and wash crops. Okay, I’m just going to say it: This is about poop, feces, pig shit, horse manure and other animal excreta — the sources of the E. Coli bacteria that have rendered Caesar salad an outcast in American kitchens and restaurants in 2018 and caused hundreds–maybe thousands–of people to vomit, have diarrhea even come close to death. .

It’s all happening, some food-safety experts say, because last year, Trump overturned Obama-era rules to test farm water for E. coli as well as for pesticides and other contaminants.

Let’s review.

According to EcoWatch, in 2006, a major outbreak of E. coli linked to Dole baby spinach was eventually traced back to water contaminated with cattle and wild pig feces. By that year, foodborne illness had become a full-blown epidemic, affecting 1 in 6 Americans. In response to that and many other outbreaks connected to foods such as peanuts, fruit and vegetables, Congress passed the landmark 2011 Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA). The law includes requirements that the FDA develop rules governing produce safety, including the water quality used to grow, harvest and pack produce.

But the FDA dragged its feet in implementing the rules. After numerous lawsuits from food-safety groups, the FDA decided to allow growers to phase in water quality and testing requirements between 2018 and 2022.

That sounded like progress. But then, Trump came along—Trump and his anti-regulatory business cronies and Big Agriculture political donors. That’s when things started going south for food safety, turning us backward, toward the good old golden, anything-goes days of the unregulated food industry of 100+ years ago.

Ecowatch reports that, “in March 2017, Trump announced billions in dollars of cuts to USDA and FDA, undermining their ability to keep our food safe. In November 2017, the Trump administration proposed a delay in enforcement of urgently needed rules aimed at keeping produce free from fecal contamination. Under the Trump administration’s delay, growers would not have to test water for E. coli contamination until between 2022 and 2014—11 to 13 years after FSMA’s passage.”

The Center for Food Safety says that, based on FDA estimates, delaying enforcement of the rule could lead to more than 730,000 additional cases of foodborne illness and countless deaths.

FDA’s own economic analysis estimates that those illnesses and deaths would cost consumers between $96 million and $822 million more than the industry would save from a delay in enforcing the rule. The groups point to at least seven deadly outbreaks of foodborne illness linked to produce, including cantaloupes, apples, cucumbers, and papayas, since the passage of FSMA in 2011. Some of those outbreaks might have been prevented if the water safety rule had been in effect.

At the Center for Science in the Public Interest, deputy director for legislative affairs Sarah Sorcher said:

“Americans deserve to know that their produce wasn’t grown or rinsed in water contaminated with animal feces. Testing water that is used to grow and harvest produce for E. coli will save both lives and money. Consumers should be outraged that the Trump administration intends to defy Congress by delaying enforcement of these safeguards for many years more.”