Lawmaker To FDA: ‘Hands Off My Cheese’

Chuck Ross Investigative Reporter
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A U.S. Congressman from Vermont is urging colleagues to unite towards a common goal.

“Cheese Lovers of the House Unite!” reads the headline of a letter sent by Rep. Peter Welch to a bipartisan group of lawmakers.

Welch is proposing an amendment to an agriculture appropriations bill that would prevent the Food and Drug Administration from interpreting the Food Safety Modernization Act in a way that would prevent cheese makers from using the wood-aging process, a practice that has been in place for centuries.

“Since the time of Adam and Eve, cheese makers have aged cheese on wood boards and wood shelves,” wrote Welch, in the letter sent Wednesday and published by The Hill.

“Wood allows the cheese to breathe and develop its tangy and rich flavor during the aging process. In Europe, cheese makers are required to use wood shelves to age the product to develop the proper texture and flavor,” Welch wrote.

The letter is in response to reports from earlier this week that the FDA may interpret the Food Safety Modernization Act, which was passed in 2011, in a way that would ban the wood-aging process.

An FDA official sent a letter stating that the process does not conform to the “current Good Manufacturing Process.” The official, Monica Metz, said that the process can increase the risk of contamination by the bacteria Listeria monocytogenes.

But Welch calls such a move an example of over-regulation.

“Without evidence to support its enforcement, the agency has cited the risk of contamination as the cause for its overreach,” he wrote, calling the FDA’s possible action “a solution in search of a problem.”

“Artisan cheese makers already have rigorous protocols in place to assure the safety of their product,” he wrote.

“Instead of banning a centuries-old aging process and triggering a possible trade war with Europe, the FDA should take a deep breath and work collaboratively with food scientists and cheese makers to ensure their products meet the high standards expected by cheese loving consumers around the world.” (RELATED: FDA Rules Against Old Cheese-Making Process)

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which tracks illness from Listeria monocytogenes contamination, found that around 260 people die annually from the bacteria.

The FDA softened their stance following frustration from the cheese industry and cheese-lovers alike.

“The FDA does not have a new policy banning the use of wooden shelves in cheese-making, nor is there any FSMA requirement in effect that addresses this issue,” the FDA said in a statement sent to The Daily Caller, adding that it has not taken any enforcement action on the use of wooden shelves.

“Historically, the FDA has expressed concern about whether wood meets this requirement and has noted these concerns in inspectional findings,” the statement reads.

“FDA is always open to evidence that shows that wood can be safely used for specific purposes, such as aging cheese,” it said, adding “the FDA will engage with the artisanal cheese-making community to determine whether certain types of cheeses can safely be made by aging them on wooden shelving.”

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