To provide additional investment in the critical food safety research area, the American Phytopathological Society’s (APS) Public Policy Board (PPB) is recommending an inter-agency research program specifically focused on gaining fundamental and practical knowledge of human pathogen-plant interactions.
In recent meetings with USDA, FDA, EPA, the National Science Foundation, the Office of Management and Budget, and the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, the board leaders discussed concerns related to human pathogens on plants.
“Plant pathologists are well-positioned to provide valuable knowledge on these issues, given their unique expertise investigating the complex relationships between microbes and plants,” stated Jacque Fletcher, APS public policy board chair and regent’s professor of plant pathology at Oklahoma State University. “APS is calling for new fundamental and practical research to identify best management practices and to investigate contamination routes, environmental survival, and interactions of human pathogens with plants in preharvest situations.”
“The strategy for response must include a preharvest perspective,” said Fletcher. “New targeted research will provide the necessary tools and strategies, as well as creative cross-disciplinary approaches necessary, to design effective solutions to microbial contamination of food plants, which is vital to the protection of U.S. crops.” While increased funding for food inspections is important, checking processing sites will not prevent food contamination if human pathogens are already colonizing the plant.
Fletcher, along with other key plant pathologists, provided case studies including the outbreaks of shigatoxin-producing E. coli in spinach and lettuce, as examples of the tremendous costs and threat that these agents can create on fresh produce.