Lawmaker to FDA: Stay away from cheese

Congressional pressure is mounting for the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to abandon new cheese aging regulations it is mulling.

Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.) is rallying a bipartisan group of lawmakers to stop the FDA from cracking down on artisan cheese-makers who use wood shelves to age their cheese. He plans to offer an amendment to the agriculture appropriations bill that would block the FDA from going after the centuries-old aging process.

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"Since the time of Adam and Eve, cheese makers have aged cheese on wood boards and wood shelves," Welch writes in a letter to every member of the House. "Wood allows the cheese to breathe and develop its tangy and rich flavor during the aging process.

Welch has already rallied more than a dozen lawmakers from both sides of the aisle, including Reps. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), Joe Courtney (D-Conn.), Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.), and Tim Walberg (R-Mich.).

This comes after the FDA recently suggested that wood boards and shelves are not sanitary enough to age cheese, prompting backlash from the cheese industry, which has been using this process for ages. 

Any such rules could not only affect American cheese-makers, but also many European producers who import their cheeses to the U.S., critics say.

Welch called it a "bureaucratic overreach" in his letter and urged the FDA to "take a deep breach."

"Astonishingly, the Food and Drug Administration has begun a 'crackdown' on America's small artisan cheese makers for using wood shelves in the aging process," Welch wrote. "Without evidence to support its enforcement, the agency has cited the risk of contamination as the cause for its overreach.

"This bureaucratic overreach by the FDA is a solution in search of a problem," he added. "Artisan cheese makers already have rigorous protocols in place to assure the safety of their product."