Cheese lovers can breathe easy, for it now appears that the FDA may reverse its recent decision to ban wood-aged cheese. After a outpouring of criticism, regulators are reconsidering whether the threat of dangerous bacteria justifies an outright ban on the wood-aging method. More:
Tuesday evening, the agency seemed to backtrack, saying that it planned to work with artisanal cheese makers “to determine whether certain types of cheeses can safely be made by aging them on wooden shelving.” […]
Representative Peter Welch, Democrat of Vermont, now plans to attach an amendment to an agriculture appropriations bill moving through Congress that would prohibit the F.D.A. from spending any money to enforce a ban on the use of wooden shelves in cheese making. He said he expected widespread support from lawmakers in Wisconsin, New York and other states with large cheese production.
We’re delighted to hear it; the ban struck us as a straightforward example of nanny-statism run amok. As Welch points out in the piece, the bacteria-ridden cheese probably became infected only because cheese makers weren’t cleaning their wood properly. If you do clean the wood, the cheese is safe, and bacteria could spring up on any cooking equipment that isn’t well cleaned.
However, the act that led to the cheese ban will still exist even if the FDA reverses itself. The ban was a new interpretation of the Food Safety Modernization Act, which became law in 2011. As National Journal reports, that bill “shifted the focus from responding to food contamination to preventing it altogether.” A total commitment to preventing all possible contamination could lead to new and heavier regulation of food production, which in turn would create more barriers to entry for new food producers. The cheese battle has been won, but the food war may just be beginning.