Rumors that the FDA might ban wooden shelves for aging cheese have been denied by the federal agency, but nevertheless Congressman Peter Welch is making this his central issue.
Welch wrote a letter to his colleagues titled, “Cheese lovers of the House Unite!” and an avalanche of media reports followed to sound the alarm about how an FDA ruling might end cheese as we know it.
An internal FDA communication not intended to be an official policy statement apparently set off the firestorm of concern by cheese makers and Congressman Welch. On June 11th, the FDA responded with a public statement which read in part:
Recently, you may have heard some concerns suggesting the FDA has taken steps to end the long-standing practice in the cheesemaking industry of using wooden boards to age cheese. To be clear, we have not and are not prohibiting or banning the long-standing practice of using wood shelving in artisanal cheese. Nor does the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) require any such action. Reports to the contrary are not accurate.
The agency’s regulations do not specifically address the use of shelving made of wood in cheesemaking, nor is there any FSMA requirement in effect that addresses this issue. Moreover, the FDA has not taken any enforcement action based solely on the use of wooden shelves.
You might think this put an end to the issue, but it hasn’t. “Like Chicken Little, Peter Welch is charging ahead to sound the alarm. Dairy is big business in the little state of Vermont and our sole Congressman is eager to prove his chops.” Andrews said.
Welch introduced legislation specifically to restrict FDA authority to regulate wooden shelves in the cheese aging process. In a lengthy interview on WCAX Welch dropped name after name from the Vermont dairy industry. The show hosts, Darren Perron and Kyle Midura, did not mention the FDA’s official response.
“The real story here is not being talked about. The FDA has been captured by the industries they are intended to regulate and representatives like Peter Welch who are more interested in catering to business than the interests of consumers are a big part of the problem,” Andrews explains. “The message to the FDA is unmistakable. If you so much as suggest the possibility of a new regulation, the food industry, media, and Congress will come down on you like a ton of bricks. This doesn’t make me feel safe at all.”
The head of the FDA is Michael Taylor, a former executive from the biotech company Monsanto. Watchdog groups have been calling on the FDA to take action against genetically modified salmon, misuse of antibiotics in factory farms, and pet treats from China that have sickened and killed thousands of pets. “Michael Taylor is not a credible defender of the public interest, but he’s an Obama appointee, so Welch is silent on his conflicts of interest. America need someone independent of industry at the head of the FDA. Vermont deserves a Congressperson who will make that call,” Andrews declared.
On March 11th, 2014, the FDA shut down Roos Foods of Delaware, a cheese producer found to be the source of an outbreak of Listeria monocytogenes. Seven people were hospitalized and one person died. “The FDA stands between us and food born pathogens. I want to see the FDA prevent cases like this from happening in the future,” Andrews said. “I think Peter Welch’s campaign against the FDA is irresponsible and may make tragedies like this more common.”
Equally disturbing is the FDA’s reluctance to regulate highly profitable drugs. For example, the rules for acetaminophen, the active ingredient in Tylenol, have taken decades to reform despite clear evidence of danger as far back as 1977. The FDA’s own experts have called for reducing the dose per pill to 325 milligrams. “While generally considered safe when taken as recommended,” the watchdog group ProPublica reports, “relatively small overdoses have been shown to cause liver damage and even death.”
“Safety and profit will always be at odds when the food and drug industries are owned by capitalists and driven by markets.” Andrews concludes, “Without vigorous government oversight, I fear a return to the world of Upton Sinclairs classic novel The Jungle, which exposed the public to the gruesome reality of the meat processing industry of his day. It was a horrific chapter in our history that we should never forget and never repeat.”
More information about the Liberty Union Party and its candidates can be found at www.libertyunionparty.org. Matthew Andrews can be followed on twitter @peopleunite, or reached at 802-858-6466 or firstname.lastname@example.org.