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Expert Available on E. coli Outbreak, New Food Safety Standards

New AAEA member research looks at impact on farmers and foodborne illnesses

An E. coli outbreak has made 17 people sick in the United States, so far, including one person who died in California. A similar strain of the bacteria made 41 people sick in Canada, where that country’s government is blaming romaine lettuce.

In the U.S., where there are illnesses in 13 states, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) says it doesn’t have enough evidence yet to say lettuce is the source of the outbreak; but this week “Consumer Reports” urged people to stop eating romaine lettuce until a cause is identified.

According to John Bovay, an assistant professor of agricultural economics at the University of Connecticut, “Some strains of E. coli bacteria produce toxins that can make us sick. When fresh fruit or vegetables become contaminated with one of these forms of E. coli, it can cause numerous illnesses all across the country because fruit and vegetables are shipped thousands of miles and are rarely cooked to a temperature that would kill E. coli.” 

While officials have yet to identify where this lettuce was grown or produced, research shows nearly half of all foodborne illnesses in the United States are tied to fresh produce.

In 2010, the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) was passed with the intent on regulating fresh produce marketed in the United States. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the agency in charge of FSMA, describes it as a way to “ensure U.S. food supply is safe by shifting the focus from responding to contamination to preventing it.” Later this month, farms responsible for growing most fruits and vegetables produced in the United States will be required to comply with FSMA.

So will it work?

“I would assess this more as a band aid than a cure-all,” Bovay says. “I don’t have a lot of confidence that this is going to drastically diminish the number of illnesses.”

Bovay and a team of researchers recently had the article “Economic Effects of the U.S. Food Safety Modernization Act,” which takes taking an in-depth look at FSMA, published in the journal Applied Economic Perspectives and Policy.

For more information on this new research, or if you are interested in setting up an interview, please contact Jay Saunders in the AAEA Business Office.

ABOUT AAEA: Established in 1910, the Agricultural & Applied Economics Association (AAEA) is the leading professional association for agricultural and applied economists, with 2,500 members in more than 20 countries. Members of the AAEA work in academic or government institutions as well as in industry and not-for-profit organizations, and engage in a variety of research, teaching, and outreach activities in the areas of agriculture, the environment, food, health, and international development. The AAEA publishes two journals, the American Journal of Agricultural Economics and Applied Economic Perspectives & Policy, as well as the online magazine Choices. To learn more, visit

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