Controversial Federal Standards Pertaining To Raw Milk Cheese Won’t Be Implemented

FDA Faces Opposition From Raw Milk Advocates

Photo: Skånska Matupplevelser (CC-BY-ND)

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is temporarily backing off regulations that some cheese makers contend are too strict. The move comes amid considerable backlash against the FDA rules affecting cheese made from raw milk.

As one way to assess cleanliness, the FDA measures non-toxigenic E.coli in cheese made from unpasteurized milk.

John Umhoefer, director of Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association, said he and others question whether the stricter standards improve food safety.

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“If there’s a standard, we can live by it,” Umhoefer said. “But let’s have a good scientific basis for it and let’s find out the ‘why’ of why we’re doing what we’re doing as regulators. We need to have to have rational decisions made by all parties.”

FDA officials said they will continue to inspect cheese-making facilities for pathogens, but they’re pausing their testing program for non- toxigenic E.coli. Officials said in a statement that “our surveillance shows that the vast majority of domestic and imported raw milk cheeses are meeting the established criteria.”

Supporters of raw milk cheese say pasteurizing milk can kill bacteria that gives cheese distinctive flavors.

Umhoefer estimates that raw milk cheeses make up only 5 percent of Wisconsin’s overall cheese production.

“So it’s not a large percent of the market, but it’s often a lot of the products that are on the cutting edge, a lot of the gourmet, specialty cheeses,” Umhoefer said.

He said raw milk cheese is a new and burgeoning sector. He describes those making artisanal cheese as passionate people who want to be able to continue their efforts.