Healthful Artisanal Cheese Under Attack Again

April 16, 2013
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artisanal_cheeseFDA simply ignores the lack of a single documented illness in twenty-three years. Action Alert!

Cheese, particularly real cheese, gets a bad rap. The American Heart Association makes “heart-healthy suggestions” to eat cheese with five or fewer grams of fat per ounce, and light or fat-free cheese products. The American Diabetes Association recommends low-fat cheese recipes—even though they usually contain more sugar! And the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine put up a series of billboards showing fat folks with the captions “Your Abs on Cheese” and “Your Thighs on Cheese.”

This is all nonsense. Cheese is actually good for you— especially when it’s made correctly, as is done in Europe by introducing bacteria at the right time and following a careful process. Artisanal cheese is hand-made from milk that comes from a single source (local whenever possible), and its creation focuses on the quality of its raw ingredients and the health of its animals. People are generally willing to pay higher prices because of its superior taste and health benefits. Cheese is the best source of vitamin K2, which the body needs (together with vitamin D) to process calcium correctly.

Unfortunately, artisanal cheese is not widely available in the US. There are some raw-milk artisanal cheese producers in some states, though not many. Several years ago, the FDA shut down the importation of most fine cheeses from Europe. Only a few larger companies—mainly offering pasteurized cheeses—are still allowed to import to the US, though as Cathy Goldsmith of Berkeley’s Cheese Board Collective points out, “The pasteurized versions are just not very good. They don’t ripen in the same way. They get flat and bitter as opposed to gooey and rich and multilayered in flavor,” and sales of pasteurized imported cheeses have dropped.

Of course, the industrialized, pasteurized, often tasteless cheeses are not only protected from competition; they also get tremendous economic support directly from the government. The government buys it and distributes much of it to school lunches where it is used mainly in pizza. You know, the same pizza which for the government counts as a vegetable because it has some tomato sauce. The USDA even has a marketing arm called Dairy Management that actively pushes the sale of cheese and milk.

How did we get so obsessed with pasteurization anyway? After World War II, retail milk’s competition was based on how much cream your milk had—the more the better—which was clearly visible because of “the cream line.” But this made the cheaper, less rich milk harder to sell. So the dairy industry started homogenizing the milk to do away with the cream line. That catch is that once milk is homogenized, if there is no further processing, it will go rancid in a matter of hours, which didn’t happen as quickly when milk was kept in its natural state. So pasteurization was mandated, first by states and then federally.

The FDA wants simple solutions and does not want to be blamed for food poisoning. So it likes large scale industrial solutions like pasteurization, especially ultra-pasteurization, and food irradiation (“nuking”). It has been alarmed about listeria in cheese for some time. The initial charge, and especially the attack on French cheese, came at the same time the French were refusing to support the invasion of Iraq. That is when French raw cheese was first banned and then only a few large producers were allowed to send it here.

Now the FDA, in conjunction with Health Canada, has just issued a joint risk assessment that claims consumers are “up to 160 times more likely” to contract a listeria infection from soft-ripened cheese made from raw milk compared to the same cheese made with pasteurized milk. Listeria monocytogenes has some of the highest fatality and hospitalization rates among pathogenic bacteria.

In the US, the FDA estimates that there is one case of listeriosis linked to raw-milk cheese for every 55 million servings eaten. Except that this estimate is not based on any direct evidence—it’s a mathematical probability only. The report is actually saying that if 55 million people eat raw-milk cheese (and with as little raw-milk cheese as is being sold in this country, the idea that 55 million of us are eating unpasteurized cheese is patently absurd), it is a mathematical probability that one lone individual will get sick from it.

In fact, it’s the lack of damning evidence that is so striking. Between 1986 and 2008, the report could not account for one single documented illness in the US from listeriosis due to tainted brie or camembert (soft cheeses). The researchers were only able to document twenty occurrences of illness from listeria in all cheeses from all kinds of milk worldwide over the same twenty-three-year period—less than one per year—and, according to the report, half of these illnesses involved cheese made from pasteurized milk! Compare that to the frequency of other foodborne illnesses (more than 1,000 outbreaks, resulting in between 15,000 and 30,000 illnesses, from all foods each year in the US), and raw cheese has a demonstrably sterling record of safety.

Listeria usually comes from the cheese-making environment, not from the milk itself. The few problems that have occurred were almost all from unlicensed producers. On page 17 of the report, they show four outbreaks of listeriosis from soft cheese—but all four were from homemade raw milk queso fresco (nicknamed “bathtub cheese”) which was not aged the required 60 days. In other words, the only incidents have been from cheese that was already illegal in the US.

While the FDA has a zero tolerance policy for listeria, which effectively crushes raw dairy production, Europe takes a different approach. They have tolerance limits with strict quality control measures in place.

The FDA is making its draft risk assessment available for public comment.

The Weston A. Price Foundation, in its formal comments to the FDA, recommends that FDA rules on dairy take into account processes for raw cheese making, and that it should be sensitive to the size and scale of the operation. Unfortunately this runs contrary to everything the FDA seems to believe in.

Of course, cheese is not the only story here. Weston Price as a good deal to say about the health value of real butter—butter made from raw milk—which is naturally high in vitamin A, supports the immune system, is good for preventing arthritis and osteoporosis, and helps the thyroid gland and the gastrointestinal system. Butter generally sells for hardly more than cream, even though it is made from cream and takes a good deal more work to produce—which means there’s no price incentive for artisans to produce raw milk butters. Producers are further discouraged from making raw butter because the FDA makes it so difficult for them.

Action Alert! There are bills pending in three states—Hawaii, Indiana, and Massachusetts—that deal with the sale of raw milk and milk products directly to the consumer. Please contact your state legislators and let them know you support raw milk and artisanal cheeses and butters!

Hawaii Action Alert!

Indiana Action Alert!

Massachusetts Action Alert!

34 Responses to “Healthful Artisanal Cheese Under Attack Again”

  1. evan white says:

    It was less the war in Iraq and more likely the years of efforts by the likes of Kraft that the FDA went after raw cheese. Just follow the money

       2 likes

  2. Patricia says:

    Your tool for consumers to directly ask for legislator support in their area is a wonderful tool. I had no luck trying to phone you, but for the Massachusetts Action Alert on H. 717, there is some flawed wording in their Section 4. The lawmakers are not going to meet for at least 3 more months or so. In the mean time, we are trying to get a background on their flawed wording in order to get the proper support from the legislators. The section 4 from the last legislative session did not include this flawed wording. Thank you.

       2 likes

  3. Tina Martin says:

    The FDA needs to stop it’s witch hunt and do what’s right. Allow people to eat real food. My body my choice!

       13 likes

    • violet7 says:

      This behavior/actions by the FDA support my belief that Big Ag and the likes of Monsanto have their hands all over this. The FDA supports the use of toxic food dyes in our food along with misleading and non labeling of our food, yet goes after unadultered natural food that has not caused any issues to date. How does that make sense? It doesn’t, so the minimal conclusion is they are either taking monies from BIG AG/ Monsanto etal or are not living up to what they are suppose to do for the people of this country and protect our food sources. from an article – Banned Ingredients that Are Still Legal in the U.S Banned Ingredients that Are Still Legal in the U.S. By SHAPE magazine | Healthy Living – Wed, Jan 16, 2013 8:21 AM EST by Cristina Goyanes – Why the U.S. Allows It: We eat with our eyes. Back in the day, food coloring came from natural sources, Today most artificial colors are made from “coal tar“, which is also used to seal-coat products to preserve and protect the shine of industrial floors, most artificial colors are made from coal tar, which is also used to seal-coat products ‘to preserve and protect the shine of industrial floors’.
      Brominated vegetable oil bromine, is a ‘poisonous chemical’ that is considered both ‘corrosive and toxic‘, it’s been linked to major organ system damage.
      Potassium bromate, this flour-bulking agent associated with ‘kidney and nervous system disorders’
      Azodicarbonamide linked to asthma and is primarily used in foamed plastics
      BHA and BHT (found in Cereal, nut mixes, gum, butter, meat, dehydrated potatoes, and beer ) ‘from petroleum’, National Institute of Health’s report that BHA may be a human carcinogen, a cancer-causing agent.
      Synthetic hormones (rBGH and rBST) Found In: Milk and dairy is supercharged with IGF-1 (insulin growth factor -1), which has been linked to breast, colon, and prostate cancers.” The milk is supercharged with IGF-1 (insulin growth factor -1), which has been linked to breast, colon, and prostate cancers.”
      Arsenic Found In: Poultry The arsenic affects the blood vessels in chickens and turkeys, causing them to appear pinker and, therefore, fresher.” P;ease share this information, keep it going so that people are aware and stand up, notify the white house, congress and fda- ob FB and http://www.whitehouse.gov/contact/
      FDA: [email protected] we can make our voices heard :-)

         6 likes

  4. Susan Crawford says:

    I grew up on a farm. We produced all our own milk, butter and cheese. It’s realtively simple and very, very safe. It’s also healthy in that it’s deeply nutritious. Please just consider the evidence in favor of these ancient, safe, practices. Thank you.

       11 likes

  5. Linda Chamberlin says:

    Artisanal cheese is scrumptuous and wholesome, incomparably better than mass-produced boring cheeses found in typical supermarkets. All I like are fine cheeses. And they’re far from threatening my health, or yours. Why don’t you try some? So many delicious options. Expand your horizons and make your cells happier. We should be like France, and produce many fine, regional cheeses. We have the resources and the talent. And the French are still healthier than we are, although American manufactured foods are beginning to destroy them, too.

       6 likes

  6. CATHERINE DASH says:

    Raw milk products are safe, nutritious and delicious. I have enjoyed raw milk products for over 30 years and have never gotten sick. I have never heard of anyone getting sick from raw milk products. I have heard plenty of people sickened and killed by pasteurized milk products. The proof is in the pudding. I have always known that the propaganda against raw milk is a lie.

       11 likes

  7. In the US, the FDA estimates that there is one case of listeriosis linked to raw-milk cheese for every 55 million servings eaten. Except that this estimate is not based on any direct evidence—it’s a mathematical probability only. The report is actually saying that if 55 million people eat raw-milk cheese (and with as little raw-milk cheese as is being sold in this country, the idea that 55 million of us are eating unpasteurized cheese is patently absurd), it is a mathematical probability that one lone individual will get sick from it.

    In fact, it’s the lack of damning evidence that is so striking. Between 1986 and 2008, the report could not account for one single documented illness in the US from listeriosis due to tainted brie or camembert (soft cheeses). The researchers were only able to document twenty occurrences of illness from listeria in all cheeses from all kinds of milk worldwide over the same twenty-three-year period—less than one per year—and, according to the report, half of these illnesses involved cheese made from pasteurized milk! Compare that to the frequency of other foodborne illnesses (more than 1,000 outbreaks, resulting in between 15,000 and 30,000 illnesses, from all foods each year in the US), and raw cheese has a demonstrably sterling record of safety.

       4 likes

  8. Gertrude Lamb says:

    Good points–if the push to ban raw dairy were about the facts instead of about the influential factions distorting the facts.

    Raw dairy goes farther. Raw milk is more satisfying and filling. Raw butter costs more per pound than pasteurized hydrogenated commercial butter–but it goes much farther than the fake-volume butter. And it, too, is more satisfying and filling.

    Grass-fed butter, milk, meats, eggs also have the right type and proportion of fats needed to nourish the body. The brain is the biggest consumer of such fats. I forget where I read that–it was from more than one source, over time. But FDA does not accept rock-solid proof, anyway, so why should I bother to provide any.
    All FDA says is, if you can prove it, FDA will just take it off the market until it applies for, and receives, FDA approval.
    And–what is FDA doing, ruling over raw farm produce anyway? I thought that was USDA’s job..!

       1 likes

  9. Ellen Barron says:

    Raw milk has real enzymes that help the human body digest it without any problems. There are Lactose intolerant people because pasteurization kills the good enzymes and bacteria that are good for the immune system. Its a proven fact, and ever since i started drinking raw milk and eating raw cheese, my indigestion and gas issues went away. Don’t mess with mother nature- she got it right the first time. I have the right to eat whats good for my body. Don’t be fooled by the lobbyists from the dairy industry whose only concern is profits.

       3 likes

  10. April says:

    Fabulous article! Thank you so much for posting such great information on the benefits of REAL cheese done the right way as well as the important action items! It amazes me that “cheese food product” made from rancid oils and artificial ingredients can be passed off to the general public as cheese, yet real cheese has been demonized without a fair trial. I have a degree in clinical nutrition and I know for a fact that when cheese is created properly and from grass fed animals, it is a wonderful source of protein, probiotics, enzymes, vitamins, minerals and conjugated linoleic acid! I have searched everywhere and found the best source of raw, certified organic, artisanal, farmstead, grass fed cheese at http://www.foods.mybeyondorganic.com
    Thanks for all you do to advocate natural health!

       6 likes

    • Opal Hilty says:

      April – Unfortunately, since you are actually educated as a clinical nutritionist, the FDA will completely ignore you in favor of lobbyists and propaganda. Thank you so much for the link. I am clicking there next!

         0 likes

  11. Wouldn’t it be great if the FDA stopped micro-managing non-issues like artisanal cheese, and dealt with more serious issues like dangerous drugs, and meat full of hormones and antibiotics! Really FDA – why don’t you use your man-power on something that actually helps people be more healthy?!

       4 likes

  12. Jane Wilson says:

    I support raw milk and artisanal cheeses and butters!

       5 likes

  13. Ellyn Sutton says:

    I support raw milk and artisanal cheeses and butters!

    FDA simply ignores the lack of a single documented illness in twenty-three years.

       0 likes

  14. Bridget Barnes says:

    Growing up on a dairy farm, producing & consuming our own milk, butter, yogurt & ice cream, gives full poof how beneficial raw milk is, as I was never sick as a child and I still never get sick now. All of my family members are healthy. We need to support the dairy industry to staff pure and healty to create wongerful raw milk products. Stop changing how we eat when and creating less healthy food. Why is our food supply being so controlled when it is not needed. Find out the right way to make cheese. KEEP RAW MILK PRODUCTS.

       4 likes

  15. Bo Baggs says:

    FDA,
    Not a single documented illness in over 23 years! Artisanal cheese is not the villain. Please come to your senses and reassess your misguided misgivings.

    Thank You

       3 likes

  16. Raw milk has been a healthy food for many for centuries. Artisanal cheeses contain Vit K to help process calcium for best absorption. It also has many enzymes and nutrients that allow people who are lactose intolerant to eat it without any negative symptoms.

    The frequency of food borne illness from raw cheeses worldwide is extremely low and does not substantiate outlawing it. Quality control measures are what Europe uses in the making of its artisanal cheeses and that works well for them. We can do the same here in the US!

       2 likes

  17. Richard Snook says:

    FDA – stop the war on artisan cheese makers…..their products are far safer than what you have designated as safe – and may not be safe at all! But then again, the FDA seems to be against anything that is genuinely safe, but promates only questionalble foods that bring big profits to the food industry. FDA – I personally will not believe anything you say at this point….you’ve earned it!!!

       1 likes

  18. Christine Klunder says:

    Greenbank Farms has raw milk cheeses and is available nationwide, mainly at places like Whole Foods.

       0 likes

  19. Sonja Hauter says:

    Please ensure that your constituents have the right to access and purchase raw milk and milk products, especially creams, butters, and cheeses. These have been part of civilization for thousands of years and are a crucial part of our healthy diets. I depend upon raw milk products in my life and so do my friends! Thank you for your help.

       0 likes

  20. Robert Morrow says:

    Just why does the FDA attack healthy foods? It is to protect the profits of the Food Processors and their poison laced foods. The FDA is poisoning our food supplies that make your children sick in mind and body, WHY: Total control and money that is the reason. Here is a quote:”THE THING THAT BUGS ME IS THAT PEOPLE THINK THE FDA IS PROTECTING THEM. IT ISN’T. THE FDA IS PROTECTING THE PROFITS OF THE CORPORATIONS THAT PAY US AND THE POLITICIANS!” Herbert Ley M.D. former FDA Commissioner. Please NOTE the word POLITICIAN. I have written and in person spoke to my Representative and Senator on the subject with written backup information and just what did I get back? ZERO. What do they care as long as their palms are being greased with the 30 pieces of Blood stained Silver. I feel that both Senators and Representative of New Mexico would sell their own into slavery or even death to get their palms greased, but that my Opinion. Chef Robert who teaches free cooking classes on how to cook and eat outside the Government Poison Box..

       2 likes

    • GoodAmerican says:

      i feel the same way about both “my” senetors here in new york state…they’re both do the corporations bidding whether it be supporting GMOs or poison pills, those two even called for the release of a convicted foreign spy and got away with it!!!…money and power run “our” govt…its been that way since they killed kennedy and got away with it.

      Peace, truth, justice, freedom and prosperity for US all…in-spite of those who would have it otherwise.

         2 likes

  21. Bill Roseberry says:

    It’s about time someone stood up for real cheese! I’m a big fan…even of the pasteurized stuff we get as “Artisinal” in this country. Apparently lawyers make cheese now, too. When I was a child, too long ago, both my familial grandparental units enjoyed home and locally produced cottage and farm cheese from their cows (my dad’s folks raised beef cattle)…AND the milk was unprocessed. I know, it came straight from the barn to the house! I used to help milk the cows (I wasn’t very good at it! lol). And we drank whole fresh milk daily. Many times, as pointed out above, the milk would be on the kitchen counter in a bucket for a morning at room temperature. My maternal grandmother used this method to skim the cream from whole milk, which left plenty of milk fat for the milk we consumed. I wish I had been around to learn the process of making the cheese on an intimate level. I only know the rudiments of the process. Sad days!

       0 likes

  22. Ray Ellis says:

    The FDA is just a lap dog to Big Pharma, Big Agra, and any other large industry with a bank account large enough to hire their Execs for big bucks after they leave the FDA.

       0 likes

  23. Janet says:

    I would like to submit a comment to the FDA regarding its draft risk assessment on raw-milk cheese but cannot find the docket number in your information or theirs. It is required. Please help!

       0 likes

  24. Sandra Holt says:

    I support raw milk and artisanal cheeses and butters!

    The question to ask is who doesn’t. We know what we’re buying and who to trust. It sure isn’t the regular dairy industry.

    How about sending all commercial interest companies directly to the commerce department. They need to get in line behind us to gain your attention and protection.

    Over the years we’ve watched as those business that compete with healthy foods & pharma come out to attack. They have phoney or faulty claims, but always get the headlines which are usually based on fear. It is nothing more than a strategic attack to take business; remember the Oprah law case? Remember that she was right, but spent a ton of money to prove it.

    We want clean food. We know who produces it. It is not the regular dairy industry in this case. How many people have every been hurt by these small groups? Compare that to the big boys. Problem is that these big boys aren’t always exposed when they
    make people sick.

       0 likes

  25. James says:

    Please allow us to eat tasty and healthy cheese instead of plastic.

       1 likes

  26. jim lawrence says:

    Leave raw milk and cheese alone. They are far better for you and the science proves it.

       1 likes

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