New report says the Trump administration could be partly to blame for the E coli outbreak
In the United States, there have been three separate outbreaks of E coli in the past year or so, and it's got people worried. This has been a bad year for fans of romaine lettuce, with outbreaks of E coli last October, this summer, and, of course, right at this moment, lettuce fans will be wondering when the next issue will arise.
This latest outbreak has spread to 12 states, infecting 43 people in the process and causing at least one to develop life-threatening kidney failure, but a new report from the Center for Investigative Reporting says that actions from the Trump administration may have exacerbated the issue, as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration shelved plans for water testing regulations that could have spotted the bacteria ahead of time.
According to a report by Reveal News, these rules were drafted in 2011 during the Obama administration and passed through to Congress, as a slew of disease outbreaks related to food were reported. The rules stated that farmers were required to test their irrigation water, which regularly gets polluted by fecal matter from livestock and wild animals.
All that poop can cause pathogens such as E coli to develop, but after taking office, the Trump administration, described by Reveal News as "responding to pressure from the farm industry and Trump’s order to eliminate regulations", delayed the regulations by four years. Reveal even speculated that things might get worse.
"Despite this deadly outbreak, the FDA has shown no sign of reconsidering its plan to postpone the rules. The agency also is considering major changes, such as allowing some produce growers to test less frequently or find alternatives to water testing to ensure the safety of their crops."
What's more, the lack of urgency from the FDA as these outbreaks occur have baffled food scientists in the field - researchers like Trevor Suslow, a food safety expert at the University of California, Davis, as he explained.
"Mystifying, isn't it? If the risk factor associated with agricultural water use is that closely tied to contamination and outbreaks, there needs to be something now. … I can’t think of a reason to justify waiting four to six to eight years to get started."
It's a point of view echoed by Erik Olson, the senior director of health and food at the Natural Resources Defense Council, who spoke to Salon saying: "Like so many deadly food contamination outbreaks, this one points up the need for stronger safeguards – not less."
"While we don’t know the cause of this latest outbreak, we know the Trump Administration last year suspended enforcement of key provisions of the FDA rule that addresses a common cause of outbreaks like this: Irrigating romaine lettuce and other veggies with manure-contaminated water. This is just the latest example of how Trump’s rollbacks and reliance on voluntary safety measures are continuing to put people’s lives at risk."
While no deaths as yet have been reported from the latest E coli epidemic, outbreaks will continue to occur if regulation isn't tightened, and the FDA would be best served reintroducing these new rules to farms as quickly as possible.