|French Camembert made with raw milk|
We've posted many articles in the last three years (since we started this blog) about the raw vs pasteurized debate in this country and our concerns about it.
It is the nature of our business to support small farmers and artisan cheese makers and we have seen them bravely fight an uphill battle against unfair government regulations.
The issue we're discussing in this article is raw milk cheese. All over the world and for over a thousand years, raw milk cheeses have been consumed successfully. Who hasn't enjoyed the cheeses of France and Italy while on vacation there? But, here, in the US, raw milk cheese may only be sold after it has been aged for 60 days or more.
|Fresh Sicilian sheep's milk cheese|
The American Cheese Society officially supports this law. However, lately, the CDC doesn't seem to understand the difference between raw milk and raw milk cheese. They also fail to differentiate between raw milk cheese that has been aged for 60 days (legal) and raw milk cheese that hasn't been (illegal). To lump the two together and make statements about their safety is inaccurate and irresponsible.
We are proud members of The American Cheese Society and Ricki (our Cheese Queen) has been an active member since it was founded in 1983. It is hardly a radical organization. It represents large and small producers of all kinds of cheeses.
So, in our opinion, it's a sad day when the ACS has to take issue with some of the misinformation released by the CDC. The following letter was sent to members last week:
NOT ALL RAW DAIRY PRODUCTS ARE ALIKE: ACS RESPONDS TO A RECENT CDC STUDY ON NONPASTEURIZED DAIRY PRODUCTS, DISEASE OUTBREAKS, AND STATE LAWS
April 12, 2012 -- In Nonpasteurized Dairy Products, Disease Outbreaks, and State Laws—United States, 1993–20061 (1), a recently released study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the authors state: “Consumption of nonpasteurized dairy products cannot be considered safe under any circumstances” and “Federal and state regulators should continue to enforce existing regulations to prevent distribution of nonpasteurized dairy products to consumers.”
As the leader in supporting and promoting North American cheese, the American Cheese Society (ACS) feels it is imperative to call attention to errors in the statements above, as well as to misleading language used throughout the CDC study.
The authors of the study assert that the interstate sale of all nonpasteurized (herein after referred to as “raw”) dairy products is illegal – suggesting that consumers who purchase raw milk cheese may be violating the law. The introduction to the study states, “In 1987, the United States Food and Drug Administration prohibited distribution of nonpasteurized dairy products in interstate commerce for sale to consumers.” This statement is false. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) prohibition cited in the study refers only to raw fluid milk (2). FDA regulations currently allow the interstate sale of raw milk cheese, so long as the cheese is made in accordance with FDA regulations, most notably with an aging period of at least 60 days (3). Consumers can legally purchase raw milk cheese from more than 80 (4) licensed producers throughout the United States -- as well as from international producers of well-known raw milk cheeses such as Parmigiano-Reggiano, Gruyere, and Roquefort.
The CDC study also states that raw dairy products – including fluid milk and cheese – pose significant health risks to consumers. However, the study doesn’t differentiate between the risks of products produced in accordance with FDA law, and those produced in violation of the law. Some of the disease outbreaks attributed to raw milk cheese originated from producers that were not following minimum FDA guidelines: in an interview with USA Today (5), Barbara Mahon, senior author of the study and deputy director of enteric diseases at the CDC, reportedly said that some disease outbreaks included in the study came from “cheeses made from unpasteurized milk that were aged less than 60 days.”
Raw milk cheese aged for less than 60 days is produced in violation of FDA law, and does not represent the vast majority of raw milk cheese available in the marketplace today. By combining data on cheeses made legally and illegally, the study does not allow consumers to make informed decisions about the risks posed by these two very different products.
ACS recognizes that safe production methods are critical to the health of consumers and our industry. We support FDA law as it is written for the production and sale of raw milk cheese. Our members adhere to the highest standards of production by:
• producing cheese in licensed facilities that are routinely inspected on the local, regional, and federal level
• producing cheese under the oversight of licensed dairy handlers
• aging raw milk cheese for a minimum of 60 days before it is sold
In fact, we are proud that the majority of ACS members (63% in 2011) voluntarily exceed these standards. See our Position Statement on the Safety of Raw Milk Cheese (6) to learn more about our members’ best practices.
ACS is disappointed that this study conflates two very different products – raw milk cheese and fluid raw milk – and fails to differentiate between cheeses made in accordance with FDA law, and cheeses produced illegally. By asserting that all raw dairy products are alike, the study paints an unfair picture of raw milk cheeses produced and sold legally in the marketplace today. In the future, we strongly encourage researchers to take this into consideration, and we ask journalists and media organizations to adequately fact-check such statements.
By purchasing raw milk cheeses produced by licensed cheesemakers, at reputable grocery and specialty food stores, consumers can enjoy a safe and legal product. They can also play an important role in a broader movement to support small businesses, local economies, sustainable agriculture practices, and informed food choices. Visit the ACS website (7) to learn more about the diverse, delicious, and award-winning cheeses (both raw and pasteurized) produced by our members.
About the American Cheese Society
The American Cheese Society (ACS) is the leading organization supporting the understanding, appreciation, and promotion of farmstead, artisan, and specialty cheeses produced in the Americas.
Over 1,500 members strong, ACS provides advocacy, education, business development, and networking opportunities for cheesemakers, retailers, enthusiasts, and the extended industry. ACS strives to continually raise the quality and availability of cheese in North America. For more information, visit www.cheesesociety.org.
Contact: Rebecca Sherman Orozco
American Cheese Society
2696 S. Colorado Boulevard, Suite 570
Denver, CO 80222
2696 S. Colorado Boulevard, Suite 570
Denver, CO 80222
(2) US Food and Drug Administration. FDA plans to ban raw milk. In: FDA consumer. Washington: US Government Printing Office; 1987.
(4) As of August 2011, 84 U.S. cheesemakers from 26 states entered raw milk cheese into the 2011 American Cheese Society Judging & Competition: http://www.cheesesociety.org/competition/2011-entry-list/