The FDA and Health Canada could be on the verge of banning the sale of cheeses made from raw milk in the United States and Canada, some cheesemakers are alleging.
A group called the Alliance for Natural Health is concerned because the FDA is taking public comments on the manufacture of artisanal cheese, often made from raw milk.
“The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced … that it is requesting comments from the public, including scientific data and information, that would assist the agency in identifying and evaluating measures that might minimize the impact of harmful bacteria in cheeses made from unpasteurized milk,” the FDA announced this summer.
The FDA added, “We are taking this action as part of an ongoing discussion with industry and other stakeholders about potential health risks associated with consumption of cheese made from unpasteurized milk.”
That means the FDA could be writing new rules to regulate the manufacture and sale of cheeses that are made from “raw” or unpasteurized milk. The FDA and its counterpart north of the border, Health Canada, believe new regulations may be necessary because they say cheese from unpasteurized milk is more likely to contain a dangerous bacteria called listeria monocytogenes.
The Alliance contends that there is no more danger of contamination from raw milk dairy products than from pasteurized milk products from large industrialized dairies. The Alliance is alleging that the FDA is trying to run small cheesemakers out of business to benefit big agribusiness.
“What is the FDA’s real motivation?” an Alliance press release asks. “We know the agency tends to back the biggest food and drug producers, because they directly help pay the agency’s bills and are also easier to regulate for a number of reasons.”
“Big food companies are also always eager to stamp out competition from smaller companies with better products. If they are wiped out by the FDA, consumers will only be able to buy the big company’s products, no matter how poor in quality or taste they may be,” the release noted.
The Alliance for Natural Health contends cheeses made from raw milk are actually healthier.
“Recent evidence from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows that, between 2009 and 2011, cheese made from raw milk accounted for one listeria outbreak and fifteen illnesses, whereas cheese from pasteurized milk caused five outbreaks and thirty-six illnesses,” the Alliance asserted.
Artisanal cheeses are “usually made from raw milk that has been cultured with special bacteria, and then aged, which makes it even safer,” the Alliance said.
Supporters of the FDA disagreed.
“I think the rules the FDA are going to imply on cheese makers are reasonable given the risk to consumers,” food safety attorney Bill Marler told Politico. “It will be interesting to see what the FDA does vis-à-vis the aging of raw milk cheeses.”
Eating cheese made from raw milk can increase the risk of a listeria infection by 50 to 160 percent, a report from the FDA and Health Canada states. Listeria causes flu-like symptoms and can sometimes be very harmful or fatal to people with weakened immune systems, the elderly, babies and pregnant women.
Some advocates contend that raw milk cheese is healthier than pasteurized cheese. The Alliance says raw milk cheese has higher levels of Vitamin C, important proteins and enzymes.
The FDA is currently taking public comments on the proposed regulations for raw cheese. You can let the agency know your opinion by using this form supplied by the Alliance.
“If the FDA receives enough messages protesting the path they are clearly on to ban raw milk cheese, they will likely back off for fear of offending Congress, which has to listen to the voters—so please take action on this issue,” the Alliance stated.
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