Search Results for ‘cheese fsma’

A holiday season with fewer cheeses

A story we’ve been following about the consequences of the Food Safety Modernization Act of 2011 (FSMA). Edible Brooklyn:

The holiday season fast approaches, and with it comes the busiest time of the year at Brooklyn’s cheese counters. … This year, however, one name will be missing from the must-have list, and it’s a coveted favorite for cheesemongers and customers alike. … on August 15th, Andy Hatch, co-owner and head cheesemaker at Uplands, sent a ripple through the cheese world when he announced via an email to his customers that Uplands had cancelled production of Rush Creek Reserve. In his own words:

I’m writing to let you know that we will not be making any Rush Creek Reserve this year. It’s disappointing news, I know, and we hope that it’s not permanent. Food safety officials have been unpredictable, at best, in their recent treatment of soft, raw-milk cheeses, and until our industry is given clear and consistent guidance, we are forced to stop making these cheeses. I’m sorry if this throws a wrench into your plans for the holidays — it certainly does on our end. It’s not a decision we came to easily. Hopefully, our government officials will soon agree on how to treat traditional cheesemaking, and we can all return to the cheeses that are so important to us.

Wouldn’t it be great if the newly elected and more regulation-skeptical Congress passed and sent to the President a bill to roll back or repeal the FSMA and save endangered foods like Rush Creek Reserve?

“FDA restrictions keeping some great cheeses out of stores”

It’s happening just as warned. Janet Fletcher at the Los Angeles Times:

…cheese counters could soon be a lot less aromatic, with several popular cheeses falling victim to a more zealous U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Roquefort — France’s top-selling blue — is in the agency’s cross hairs along with raw-milk versions of Morbier, St. Nectaire and Tomme de Savoie. …

Of course, French creameries haven’t changed their recipes for any of these classic cheeses. But their wheels are flunking now because the FDA has drastically cut allowances for a typically harmless bacterium by a factor of 10.

The new rules have resulted in holds even on super-safe Parmigiano Reggiano, and the risk of losing a costly shipment of a perishable commodity is likely to be enough to drive many European producers out of the market for export to America entirely. Highly praised artisanal cheese makers in the United States are facing shutdown as well. [Michael Gebert, Chicago Reader] Earlier on the FDA and cheese regulation here and, from Cato, here (2010 predictions, before FSMA passed), here, here, etc.

They told us this administration was going to be run by wine and cheese faculty liberals. Now where are they when they could actually do us some good?

Related, note that the regulatory pressure is coming from both sides of the Atlantic: “Newsweek: French cheesemakers crippled by EU health measures” [Cheese Notes, with discussion of role of giant manufacturers whose processed cheese operations can comply with the rules] (& welcome The Week, Reason readers; cross-posted at Cato at Liberty)

FDA backs down on wood aging of cheese

Yes! Following an enormous outcry from cheese makers, commentators, and the general public, the agency beats a hasty retreat. Commentator/ Pepperdine lawprof Greg McNeil has the details at Forbes (and his earlier commentary on the legalities of the agency’s action is also informative). Earlier here.

In a classic bureaucratic move, the agency denied it had actually issued a new policy (technically true, if you accept the premise that a policy letter from its chief person in charge of cheese regulation is not the same as a formally adopted new policy) and left itself the discretion to adopt such a policy in future if it wishes (merely declaring itself open to persuasion that wood shelving might prove compatible with the FSMA).


This is also a lesson for people in other regulated industries. When government officials make pronouncements that don’t seem grounded in law or policy, and threaten your livelihood with an enforcement action, you must organize and fight back. While specialized industries may think that nobody cares, the fight over aged cheese proves that people’s voices can be heard…

There is a less optimistic version, however. It happens that a large number of editors, commentators, and others among the chattering classes are both personally interested in the availability of fine cheese and familiar enough with the process by which it is made to be un-cowed by claims of superior agency expertise. That might also be true of a few other issues here and there — cottage food sold at farmer’s markets, artisanal brewing practices — but it’s inevitably not going to be true of hundreds of other issues that arise under the new Food Safety Modernization Act. In a similar way, the outcry against CPSIA, the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act, rose to a politically effective level only on a selected few issues (publishers and libraries got a fix so that older children’s books would not have to be trashed; youth motorsports eventually obtained an exemption, and so forth) but large numbers of smaller children’s products and specialties whose makers had less of a political voice simply disappeared.

More: Andrew Coulson, Cato, and on the trade aspects, K. William Watson; Chuck Ross, Daily Caller (quoting me at length for which thanks). On the FDA’s new statement: “Typical bureaucratic doublespeak that seems meant to maximize uncertainty for the regulated community” [Eric Bott of Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce] “This was the worst possible outcome. It reinforces elites’ view that regulators are reasonable and wise and will fix mistakes.” [@random_eddie] “Pay no attention to the Leviathan behind the cheesecloth” [Scott Lincicome, in an exchange after a writer at Slate observed that “Libertarians aren’t the only ones” who might want to keep board-aged cheese legal] (Vox, Reason, Carly Ledbetter/HuffPo; & welcome Instapundit, Alexander Cohen/Atlas Society, Q and O readers)

FDA moves to ban cheese aging on wooden boards

We warned at the time that the ill-conceived Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) of 2011 would tend to choke off many non-industrial food sources. Now the FDA, interpreting FSMA as part of its regulatory process, is moving to ban the aging of cheese on wooden boards, a process that dates back thousands of years and has been practiced safely by many of the world’s finest cheese makers. The agency apparently intends to apply the same standard to imported cheese as well, which means that in addition to devastating artisanal cheese producers in this country, the move would cut off Americans’ access to large numbers of classic European cheeses, many of which, like Comte and Reblochon, “are required to be aged on wood by their standard of identity.” [Jeanne Carpenter, Cheese Underground (Wisconsin); Matt Spiegler, Cheese Notes]

Our coverage of FSMA, including its many-sided impact on traditional and artisanal farm and food practice, is here.

More: “Old guy in the cell: What are you in for? New guy in the cell: I aged cheese on wooden boards.” [Scott Greenfield] Plus: William Watson, Cato; Greg McNeal, Forbes, on the legalities including an apparent shift in the FDA’s earlier stance approving wood board aging]

Update June 11: agency backs down.

Food roundup

  • Our posts on the closure of California’s Westover Winery following punitive fines for letting customers volunteer continue to draw interesting comments, including one from a reader identifying himself as William Smyth, owner of the winery;
  • FDA comes out with revised proposed FSMA rules, a preliminary look [AP] Agency only partially backs off restrictions on use of spent brewing grains as animal feed [Elizabeth Brown/Reason, WLF, earlier]
  • “Cottage food” law success: “Texans Created Over A Thousand Local Businesses After Texas Eased Restrictions On Selling Food” [Nick Sibilla, IJ/Forbes]
  • Artisanal salami maker eventually managed to persuade FDA that it should be permitted to ferment product at 72 degrees as the Italians do [WaPo] Craft sausage startup in Detroit “sort of operated under ‘do-things-until-you-get-caught” [Metro Times]
  • Does drinking diet soda make you fat? [Daniel Engber, Slate]
  • Kalona, Iowa maker of squeaky cheese curds cites mounting regulatory costs in decision to close (via Julie Gunlock) [Cedar Rapids Gazette]
  • Bee colonies getting sick: indictment of modern humanity’s interaction with nature? [Timothy Taylor, Conversable Economist]

FDA vs. wooden onion crates

We’ve warned many times that the Food Safety Modernization Act of 2011 is sure to drive up food prices, make life hard for small farmers, and encourage the substitution of industrial farm methods for the traditional and local. Now the FDA is rumbling that wooden onion crates may need to give way to plastic, although defenders say wooden crates have a good safety record in actual use. “Replacing a million wooden crates would cost about $200 million. … plastic crates can only hold about half the weight of wooden ones and they cost nearly three times as much.” [Economics 21]

In June, after an outcry, the FDA backed off hints that it would end the age-old practice of aging cheese on wooden boards.

P.S. Interesting discussion in comments on whether the cited cost figures are plausible. One thing I like about Overlawyered readers is that they know so much about onion crates.

Flashback: when the FDA banned Mimolette

A year ago the Cato Institute interviewed Jill Erber, of Northern Virginia cheese shop Cheesetique, after the FDA decided to ban the traditional French cheese Mimolette. More on the FDA and cheese here, here, here, etc.

More: Baylen Linnekin at Reason on why the FDA hasn’t really backed off its latest on wooden shelving (“You dine at the pleasure of the FDA. Enjoy it while it lasts.”); also at Reason, Elizabeth Nolan Brown. And some of the reassurances we heard at the time about FSMA being no big deal are here and here.

Food roundup

  • Gee, thanks, NIH: “Taxpayer-Funded Propaganda to Show the ‘Evils’ of Private Alcohol Sales” [Michelle Minton, CEI]
  • “So this summer, under the supervision of officials from U.S. Customs, all three thousand two hundred and ninety-seven pounds of Mimolette were tossed into dumpsters and doused in bleach.” [The New Yorker, Dec. 9, subscription; S.F. Chronicle, earlier on French cheese controversy here, here, etc.]
  • FDA forced to back off FSMA regs, NYC soda ban loses twice in court, and other highlights of the year in food freedom [Baylen Linnekin] “Americans Think They Should Be Allowed to Buy Foods with Trans Fats and Caffeinated Energy Drinks” [Emily Ekins on new Reason-RUPE poll] “The Dangers of a Soda Tax” [Trevor Burrus] Linnekin podcast on FDA’s trans-fat ban [Cato, Caleb Brown interview]
  • “Annals of Closing Statements in Exploding Bottle Cases” [Kyle Graham]
  • “Minnesota says raw milk makes more people sick than recognized” [L.A. Times]
  • It’s for the children: proposals for regulating in-store food marketing [Jennifer Pomeranz via Public Citizen]
  • Federal sugar program devastated domestic candy manufacturing, as WaPo (sometimes) recognizes [Chris Edwards]

H.R. 875, Food Safety Modernization Act of 2009

The panics over salmonella, E. Coli and unsafe foodstuffs from China have heightened the prospects that Congress will enact a measure known as H.R. 875, the “Food Safety Modernization Act of 2009”. radishseedShould the measure in its current form become law, “food establishments”, which to quote Patrick at Popehat “means anyone selling or storing food of any type for transmission to third parties via the act of commerce”*, will have to register with a new federal regulatory agency, submit to federal inspections, and, perhaps most significant, keep “copious records of sales and shipment by lot and label”. Penalties for infractions will be very, very steep.

What could possibly go wrong?

The answer, it seems, is “plenty”. Patrick, and the other writers linked just above, warn that the law may drive out of business local farmers and artisanal, small-scale producers of berries, herbs, cheese, and countless other wares, even when there is in fact nothing unsafe in their methods of production. Many informal makers of ethnically or culturally distinctive food items will go off-books or simply fall by the wayside, overwhelmed by the reporting and batch-tracking paperwork. Many foreign producers who ship in less-than-mass quantities will give up on the U.S. market rather than try to comply with challenging standards that differ drastically from those imposed by European markets or their own countries of origin, which in turn will mean that many interesting and safe specialty foods will simply no longer be available for purchase, at least legally.

The catch-phrase one keeps hearing is “CPSIA for food”.

So now an aggressive campaign of reassurance is underway: FSMA, it’s said, really should be seen as posing no particular threat to farmer’s markets or small producers — at least those that are not sloppy or cavalier about their customers’ safety. lettuceseedAt Treehugger, one finds language which with a word changed here or there is virtually identical to the reassuring language one recalls hearing from CPSIA backers:

I can’t imagine this resulting in anything more than a little paperwork and a brief headache for small farmers—they have no reason to worry about a seven figure fine. That amount is intended to account for corporate ne’er food-do-wells, and is therefore a pretty damn good incentive to keep factories and meat packing plants clean.

So even though home orchard proprietors and others operating at far less than a factory scale of production will in fact be exposed to stiff fines should they fall astray of the record-keeping obligations, this particular writer, Brian Merchant, “can’t imagine” stiff fines actually being imposed. You have to wonder whether Mr. Merchant was one of those who as recently as January couldn’t imagine CPSIA posing more than a “brief headache” for thrift stores or handmade toy crafters.

Among those prominent in this campaign of reassurance is the ubiquitous and media-friendly plaintiff’s lawyer Bill Marler, who’s carved out a thriving practice filing (and publicizing) food poisoning suits. Marler’s blog serves as a bit of a clearinghouse for articles vigorously disputing the idea that small producers have any reason, any good reason at least, to be afraid of H.R. 875.

The chief sponsor of FSMA’s Senate version is none other than Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin, and among the groups prominently backing the bill is none other than Consumers’ Union. We are now being asked to trust a legislative process in which Durbin and CU will count as insiders to ensure that the law’s provisions are shaped so as not to pose an undue or prohibitive burden on small producers far from the Washington scene. If there was ever a time when I would have trusted Sen. Durbin and Consumers’ Union with such a task, it was before the CPSIA debacle. Not only did the Durbins and CUs of the Washington scene help bring us that debacle, but — much less forgivably — they have continued blindly or mendaciously to deny that there is anything that needs fixing about that law at all, even as its damage has mounted month upon month. They do not deserve our trust on this matter.

Some other views: Slow Food, Ari LeVaux/AlterNet (noting that an alternative bill, HR 759, the “Food And Drug Administration Globalization Act,” may be more likely to pass and poses many of the same issues), Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund (oriented toward raw milk defense), Nicole Brodeur/Seattle Times (pooh-poohing concern over H.R. 875, but acknowledging the legitimacy of similar concerns that the animal-tracking program NAIS will render small animal-keeping operations uneconomic). Another source: Twitter hashtag #HR875.

More: & welcome Andrew Sullivan, Eve Tushnet, Hans Bader, Rob Wilson/Challenge and Fun, John Phipps/Incoming readers. And more from the “campaign of reassurance” camp: Hartford Courant (citing views of bill sponsor Rosa DeLauro, D-Ct.); Ryan Grim at Huffington Post (similar); (criticizing untruths and hyperbole about the bill found in a widely circulated chain email, and seeming to guide readers to the Snopes-like conclusion that concern about the bill can therefore be dismissed). John Cole/Balloon Juice initially agrees in finding grounds for concern, then is convinced by commenters (who warn him against wicked, untrustworthy sites like this one) that it’s all “hysterical” and “nonsense”. More reactions: Patrick @ Popehat, Rod Dreher, Nick Gillespie @ Reason “Hit and Run”, Hans Bader and more, Vines and Cattle.

*Some reasssuring accounts of the law describe it as applying only to food in “interstate commerce”, which sounds as if it might not reach local and mom-and-pop operators at all; but the law’s definition of “interstate commerce,” as readers may remember, can include extremely localized doings, as in Wickard v. Filburn (farmer’s growing of wheat for his own consumption deemed “interstate commerce”). Section 406 of the bill reads as follows: “PRESUMPTION. In any action to enforce the requirements of the food safety law, the connection with interstate commerce required for jurisdiction shall be presumed to exist.”