The cheese industry is no stranger to changes in regulations from the FDA. From wooden boards to raw milk, it can sometimes feel like every time you blink an eye something new threatens the world of cheese as we know it.
As a consumer, without being dialed-in to the FDA (if that’s even a thing), it can be easy to miss these changes until your favorite cheeses are just gone. And even if you do keep up with the FDA, what can you do?
A couple weeks ago, with a flurry of emails, posts, and tweets, Jasper Hill and Oldways took to social media—armed with a plan and backed by science—to plant the seeds of a campaign to push back on the FDA’s current hot topic: raw milk cheese.
While Mateo Kelher from Jasper Hill urged his “Friends in Cheese” to contact their congressional offices in hopes of getting a “very broad based, bipartisan group of reps and senators to sign onto the letter that Rep Peter Welch and Sen Bernie Sanders and Patrick Leahy are currently circulating,” Oldways went the route of a petition on change.org to support the same cause and letter.
The letter, drafted by the Vermont Congressional Delegation, Rep. Peter Welch (D-VT), Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and sent to Mike Taylor, Deputy Commissioner for Foods and Veterinary Medicines at the FDA, addresses a recent change in standard for microbiological criteria for strains of non-toxigenic (i.e., does not produce toxins) bacteria from 10,000 colony forming units (CFU) per gram to less than 10. This would, in effect, “severely limit the production of raw milk cheeses across the country.”
Ultimately receiving 24 congressional signatures—9 senators and 15 representatives—the letter expresses concern for the effect of the new standard on the future of raw milk cheese, the lack of scientific evidence related to health risks, and urges the FDA to answer some direct questions about the change:
“Given the potential impact of this new standard, we are seeking to better understand its scientific basis. Why did the FDA feel a more stringent E. coli standard for raw-milk cheese was warranted? What evidence exists to demonstrate that raw-milk cheeses produced under current practices place public health at risk? Has the science upon which this standard is based been subject to peer review? Is it appropriate to apply the same standards to raw milk and to pasteurized milk cheeses considering that the fate of pathogenic bacteria and the public health risks associated with the two classes of cheese are known to be very different? And to what extent did the FDA consult with international organizations and producers who import cheese into the U.S. in proposing this standard?”
On December 3, 2015, the letter was sent to the FDA. The final 3470 signatures and over 1700 comments from the Oldways Cheese Coalition Petition were also sent to the Vermont Delegation to provide additional support, when needed, for the FDA.
While it’s not a sure thing how the FDA will respond on these issues, culture will do its best to keep the cheese community posted on the details.