At least 16 people have been hospitalized and 43 people have been sickened so far from the latest E. coli outbreak, which the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) believe is linked to a contaminated crop of romaine lettuce.
While investigations are still ongoing to determine where the strand originated, a report by Reveal News from the Center for Investigative Reporting appears to pin some of the blame for recent E. coli outbreaks on President Donald Trump‘s administration.
Last spring, another E. coli outbreak in lettuce infected 210 people, hospitalized 96 people and killed five. Despite the fatal outbreak, Trump’s U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) then allegedly delayed important water-testing requirements for produce growers, Reveal reported in September.
Those rules were crafted by the Obama administration’s FDA and passed into legislation by Congress in 2011, in response to several disease outbreaks linked to food, Reveal reported. The rules, which should have gone into effect earlier this year, require farmers to regularly test their irrigation water, which often gets polluted from fecal runoff from livestock or wildlife waste, causing the growth of pathogens such as E. coli.
But according to the outlet, “responding to pressure from the farm industry and Trump’s order to eliminate regulations,” Trump’s FDA “shelved the water-testing rules for at least four years.”
“Despite this deadly outbreak, the FDA has shown no sign of reconsidering its plan to postpone the rules,” Reveal reported in September. “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.”
Representatives for the FDA did not immediately respond to PEOPLE’s request for comment.
According to Reveal, the FDA’s alleged lack of urgency has “dumbfounded food safety scientists.”
“Mystifying, isn’t it?” Trevor Suslow, a food safety expert at the University of California, Davis, told Reveal. “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.”
And Erik Olson, the senior director of health and food at the Natural Resources Defense Council, said in a statement to Salon, “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.”
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At least 43 people in 12 states in the U.S. have become ill from the latest outbreak, The Washington Post reported, while 22 people in Ontario, Quebec and New Brunswick have also reported sickness related to eating romaine lettuce. There have been no deaths reported so far.
Americans have been encouraged to throw out all products containing romaine lettuce, while grocery stores, restaurants, and other food sellers have done the same.
The symptoms of contracting E. coli include cramps, diarrhea, and vomiting and should subside within a week, according to the CDC.