6-18-14 – Cheese Flap Reveals Hypocrisy on GMOs, Chemicals

Posted by Rob Roper

In case you missed it, the Food & Drug Administration recently announced that it was planning to ban the use of a centuries old practice of aging cheese on wooden boards, requiring instead the use of stainless steel or plastic. An uproar ensued here in Vermont. The ban would have led to artisan cheese manufacturers having to spend millions to refit their operations (Jasper Hill Farms, for example, estimated their cost at $20 million), and worst of all, our signature Vermont cheeses wouldn’t taste as good!

A spokesperson for the FDA, Monica Metz, defended the policy, “Microbial pathogens can be controlled if food facilities engage in good manufacturing practice. Proper cleaning and sanitation of equipment and facilities are absolutely necessary to ensure that pathogens do not find niches to reside and proliferate. … Wooden shelves or boards cannot be adequately cleaned and sanitized.”

Vermont’s lone congressman, Peter Welch, earned kudos for standing up immediately, calling the FDA ruling “nutty,” and proposing legislation to defund the FDA’s ability to enforce the rule. Great! A little common sense in the ruling class for a change. Trust the people to make their own decisions.

But wait a minute…. Given recent Vermont legislation and popular sentiment, why isn’t a ban on wood-aged cheese the right policy? Don’t we as consumers have a right to know what we’re eating, particularly if it is a “microbial pathogen”? Where are the outraged calls for labeling? “This cheese was manufactured in a facility deemed unsanitary by the FDA!” “This cheese may contain harmful bacteria!” If our politicians believe GMOs represent a legitimate health issue worth a multi million political legal fight, certainly pathogen laced cheese should inspire a similar reaction.

Along with the GMO labeling law, Governor Shumlin just signed into law the Toxic-Free Families Act, which, according to its biggest advocate, VPIRG, has three main components:

  • The Vermont Department of Health would establish a list of chemicals of high concern;
  • If consumer products sold in Vermont include a listed chemical, then the manufacturer is required to disclose this information to the Department of Health, where it would be made available to the public;
  • Lastly, an advisory committee of stakeholders and health department officials will rule on whether to ban or regulate the use of said chemicals in consumer products sold in Vermont.

So, the politicians feel the need to protect kids from potentially chewing on a chemically infused toy, but a grilled cheese sandwich tinged with Listeria monocytogenes? Meh. Eat two. #saveourcheese!

To be clear, I am not calling here for a ban on cheese or the practice of aging it on wood. But it is important to point out that all of these decisions — to warn/ban or not to warn/ban —  were political. They were not  based on science, principle, or even intellectual consistency. They were made by politicians currying favor with cronies. The idea that they’re looking out for us, the little guy, is a convenient illusion.

Maybe what we really need is labels for politicians: “May contain dangerous traces of B.S.” Or better yet, how about an outright ban.

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Lazarus Long June 20, 2014 at 11:04 pm

All we need is that damned “California Cancer” label on everything. What a joke!


jim bulmer June 21, 2014 at 12:29 pm

Not to worry Rob. The state’s war chest to defend the indfensable has received a whopping $17,000. WOW!!!


George Howard June 21, 2014 at 5:18 pm

Maybe the FDA should prove that cheese on wood has caused X number of deaths during the past 2-3,000 years in order to validate their claim. What’s next ? Maybe demanding that Coca Cola release all of the ingredients in it’s secret formula? Good luck with that one.


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