New Raw Milk Regulations Being Challenged by Vermont Cheesemakers - Cowsmo

New Raw Milk Regulations Being Challenged by Vermont Cheesemakers

BURLINGTON, Vt. –Cheesemaking is big business in Vermont.

“It is a $650 million business in Vermont, so dairy is the largest part of the agricultural economy in the state of Vermont, so you can see that cheese is a large chunk of that,” said Tom Bivins, Vermont Cheese Council.

Which is why so many cheese supporters are up in arms about a new Food and Drug Administration cheesemaking rule for use of raw milk. The standards also apply to cheeses imported to the United States.

“For the Vermont Cheese Council, we have about 150 different cheeses in the state of Vermont that constitute raw milk cheeses that could fall into this category and we are really concerned about the livelihoods and the futures of these cheesemakers,” said Bivins.

The new FDA standard calls for a decrease in the presence of nontoxic E. coli in raw milk cheeses. A substance that cheesemakers say does not make people sick, and in fact, is the very substance that gives different cheeses their distinct flavors.

“In raw milk cheese E.coli could just be there for a whole variety of reasons and in some cheeses they are very characteristic part of the flora,” said Catherine Donnelly, UVM professor of Nutrition and Food Science at UVM.

Donnelly questions the science behind the new FDA standards.

“So, the idea that there is any kind of referred scientific journal article that encouraged FDA to take this action, I haven’t seen that and as a science-based agency FDA really is required to scientifically justify any changes in standards or recommendations,” said Donnelly.

“It seems clear that there is some agenda at FDA to limit raw milk cheese production,” said Mateo Kehler.

Kehler is an award-winning cheesemaker at the Cellers at Jasper Hill in Greensboro. He feels the FDA is trying to block cheese imports from other countries.

“By limiting the variety of cheeses that can be produced and imported into the U.S., it creates more space and market share for large industrial producers to take back some of the market they may have been losing to customers who are developing a fancy for fancy cheese,” said Mateo.

And then there is this:

“It’s ironic that at the same time our congressional delegation has worked with USDA and rural development to provide funding to enhance artisan cheesemaking, the FDA is implementing regulations that are having a very detrimental effect on that very trade,” said Donnelly.

Vermont’s congressional delegation is leading a coalition in Congress challenging the new FDA raw milk cheese standards. This issue will be front and center Monday in Brattleboro when the Vermont Agency of Agriculture hosts the FDA for a regional meeting on the Food Safety Modernization Act final rules. Mateo and other cheesemakers plan to be there.

By: Judy Simpson

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