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Lawmakers Express Concerns Over FDA Wood/Cheese Policy
Wisconsin Ag Connection - 06/17/2014

A group of 30 state legislators are calling on the Food and Drug Administration to rethink a recent policy that could penalize cheesemakers for aging their products on wooden shelves. In a letter drafted by State Rep. Janis Ringhand of Evansville and Sen. Julie Lassa from Stevens Point, the lawmakers said the new rule could have a devastating effect on Wisconsin's cheese industry.

"Wisconsin leads the nation in cheese production, and we are in the forefront of producing artisanal cheeses using traditional methods," Lassa said. "Aging on wood is a practice that has been proven safe for generations and the FDA has no grounds to ban it."

Ringhand adds that a decision like this by the FDA not only affects cheesemakers across Wisconsin, but impacts the dairy producers they purchase their supplies from.

The controversy was sparked by a recent statement by FDA officials to the New York Department of Agriculture that indicated that wooden shelves did not meet federal standards. The agency has since clarified that it does not intend to issue a ban and will not take any enforcement action based solely on the use of wooden shelves.

Meanwhile, the letter from the Wisconsin lawmakers goes on to say that at least 33 million pounds of cheese currently rests on wooden boards in Wisconsin, which is a practice that is well-accepted by the industry and has been used for well over one hundred years.

"Furthermore, Wisconsin already has a protocol established through the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection, which requires certain food safety protections and helps prevent bacterial outbreaks," it noted.

The FDA wrote to State Agriculture Secretary Ben Brancel and Governor Scott Walker last week saying the Food Safety Modernization Act--which now requires utensils and other surfaces that contact food be adequately cleanable and properly maintained--would not mean the end of using wood shelving.

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