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In Its War on Raw Milk Cheese, FDA Finally Beats a Retreat

by David Gumpert


For more than a decade, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has had an undeclared war on raw milk cheese, until [last] week, when the FDA finally beat a retreat.

At the conclusion of its latest assault against raw milk cheese–a research study of more than 1,600 cheese samples to test for pathogens–the FDA made this remarkable admission:

“The data collected by the FDA indicate that the prevalences of Salmonella and pathogenic Shiga toxin- producing E. coli are relatively low and similar to the contamination rates in many other foods.”

I added the emphasis, just to highlight the significance of that statement. The FDA has never before gone so far as to suggest that a raw-milk product is as safe as “many other foods.” Instead, the FDA and its buddies at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) have gone out of their way to foment fear about raw milk products of any kind, warning people not to consume them under any circumstances.

Raw milk cheese has been sanctioned by the FDA since the late 1940s, so long as it is aged at least 60 days. The raw milk cheese assault began back in 2005, when FDA dairy chief John Sheehan declared that the agency was concerned about contamination from cheese made from unpasteurized milk and suggesting that the 60-day aging rule wasn’t sufficient to reduce risks from pathogens. He then directed several efforts over the course of the next ten-plus years to make his case, including widespread inspections of American Cheese Society members in 2010 and a highly theoretical, and flawed, study concluding raw milk cheese was 50 to 160 times more risky for listeriosis than pasteurized milk cheese. All have failed to make the case Sheehan and his cronies at the FDA so badly wanted—that raw milk cheese is a high-risk food, requiring serious restrictions on production and distribution, including abandoning the simple 60-day aging rule.

This latest report should put the kibosh on the FDA’s efforts to tighten rules on raw milk cheese, which prompted opposition late last year from a number of prominent politicians. But as we’ve learned over a number of years, you can never count the FDA out in its desire to rid the country of raw milk products.

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