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Vermont Legislators Challenge FDA Cheese Standard

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Vermont Legislators Challenge FDA Cheese Standard

December 07, 2015
By Ken Briodagh
Editorial Director

A group of U.S. Senators and members of the House of Representatives are saying that the FDA’s new non-toxigenic E. coli standard for raw milk cheeses is too restrictive and will hurt small dairy farmers and cheese producers. The coalition is lead, unsurprisingly, by Rep. Peter Welch, Sen. Patrick Leahy, and Sen. Bernie Sanders, all from Vermont. They have stated that the standard could ban many traditional recipes for raw milk cheese and harm artisan cheese producers in Vermont. 

The group sent a letter to FDA Deputy Commissioner Michael Taylor on December 3, in which they called for the FDA to listen to feedback from cheese producers who would be harmed by the more stringent standard. They also questioned whether the called-for thousand-fold decrease in the presence of non-toxigenic E. coli in raw milk cheeses would benefit public health, if the standards are scientifically sound, and if they were adopted in an open and transparent way. 

The statement said that this, more stringent, standard is inconsistent with other internationally-recognized protocols because non-toxigenic E. coli are typically not harmful to humans.

“Cheese production is an important, and growing, component of our nation’s value-added agricultural economy,” they wrote. “It is an economic driver in rural areas across the country, producing good jobs, internationally-recognized brands, and award-winning cheeses.”

The FDA standard seeks to limit the level of non-toxigenic E. coli found in raw milk cheeses from 10,000 Most Probable Number (MPN) per gram in 2009 to 10 MPN per gram. The standard was contained in the latest edition of the FDA Compliance Program Guidance Manual and Compliance Policy Guide. 

Image via Pixabay

Dairy farmers involved in the production of these artisanal cheeses are of course concerned about the regulation, and supportive of the legislative group. “Artisan cheese plays a powerful role in rural economies through job creation and conservation of working landscapes. Cheese has certainly been transformative for our community in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom. Every industry needs good regulation in order to thrive. As a cheese making community we are not asking for ‘less' regulation, we are asking for ‘good' regulation that is developed transparently and based on solid science,” said Mateo Kehler, Co-Founder, Jasper Hill Farm, based in Vermont.

Dr. Catherine W. Donnelly, Professor of Nutrition and Food Science, The University of Vermont, also felt the FDA has gone too far, and she said the science doesn’t support the change. “At a time when the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) is requiring us to harmonize our microbiological standards with those of our international trading partners, this issue requires rigorous scientific analysis and international dialogue. These standards are negatively impacting both domestic and imported artisan cheeses. As someone who has conducted extensive research to improve the safety of artisan cheeses, I can conclusively state that there is no scientific basis for these standards,” she said.

In addition to the Vermont delegation, the letter was signed by Senators Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Ron Johnson (R-WI), Angus S. King Jr. (I-ME), Christopher Murphy (D-CT), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) and Ron Wyden (D-OR), and by Representatives Tony Cardenas (D-CA (News - Alert)), Joe Courtney (D-CT), Peter DeFazio (D-OR), Morgan Griffith (R-VA), Richard Hanna (R-NY), Jared Huffman (D-CA), Bill Huizenga (R-MI), Ron Kind (D-WI), Ann Kuster (D-NH), Chellie Pingree (D-ME), Mark Pocan (D-WI), Reid Ribble (R-WI), Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI) and Randy Weber (R-TX).

Edited by Kyle Piscioniere

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