When large government agencies like the U.S. Food and Drug Administration want to make controversial policy changes, they often use the major media to launch trial balloons to see how different options play with key constituencies.
That helps explain why both the New York Times and Washington Post came out Saturday with major articles about the FDA’s coming clampdown on raw milk cheese, and its likely trashing of the 60-day rule–the minimum aging of raw milk cheese for commercial sale. This is something I’ve been anticipating for a year now, and the day of the actual restrictions is drawing ever closer—likely within the next few months, according to the FDA’s friends at the major media.
If you read the two articles carefully, though, you find that while they parrot the FDA’s fearmongering, they say nary a word about the real research question that needs to be asked before changing the rule. Before I get to that, here are a few statements from the Washington Post article that give you the underlying FDA pitch:
“The FDA sees greater food-safety risks when food is made on a farm…”
“But because cheese made from raw milk is not heated, regulators worry that the lack of a ‘kill step’ means greater risk of contamination from pathogens that can cause illness.”
“As part of its new emphasis on cheese safety, the FDA is reexamining its rules on raw-milk cheese and is likely to propose changes within the next several months…”
And this from The New York Times article: “The F.D.A. has not tipped its hand, but some in the industry fear that raw milk cheese could be banned altogether or that some types of cheese deemed to pose a higher safety risk could no longer be made with raw milk. Others say they believe the aging period may be extended, perhaps to 90 days. That could make it difficult or impossible for cheesemakers to continue using raw milk for some popular cheese styles, like blue cheese or taleggio-type cheeses, that may not lend themselves to such lengthy aging.”
And like the bloated tackler who jumps onto the pile of football players after the tackle has been made, product liability lawyer is chirping that it’s his research that prompted the media to go after the 60-day aging rule. (It’s dispassionate and thorough research I wrote previously about that reflects well on raw milk cheese…until it’s used for promotional purposes and to curry favor with media and regulators.)
Regardless of who did what to whom, let’s return to the heart of the matter–the underlying question that the FDA, the Washington Post, the New York, Times, and Bill Marler don’t want to deal with. All the reports discuss the fact that there were a handful of illnesses attributed to raw milk cheese in 2010 (54 if I added the Marler report’s table correctly).
But what about before 2010? Complete silence…and for good reason.
I went through the data, in the form of the famous notarized compilation from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control on illnesses from raw dairy products over 33 years from 1973-2005. I found four outbreaks with a total of 67 illnesses from raw milk cheese over 33 years. I’m not a mathemetician, but I can tell you that that works out to an average of two illnesses a year, as in 1 + 1= 2.
In the interests of complete transparency, I will report as well that there are 119 illnesses from raw milk queso fresco cheese over that same period; I haven’t included those in the total of 67 because these cheeses aren’t produced with the intention of being aged 60 days under FDA rules.
But if the anti-raw-milk rabids insisted on including queso fresca, because they are so desperate for evidence to support their crusade, then the total works out to 186 illnesses from raw milk cheese over 33 years; then the average would be less than six per year.
I didn’t have a chance to explore the years 2006-2010, but I’d love to see that data. Do the germophobes have the guts to do that, and assess all the data?
In the meantime, what seems to have occurred is that there was a jump in reported illnesses in 2010 to 54 from what had been an average of two over a 33-year period. The anti-raw-milk crowd jumps on one year and ignores 33 years of history. Not quite kosher, guys, and gals.
Moreover, we know there is much more consumption of raw milk cheeses than straight raw dairy, simply because the cheese can and is sold legally at retail around the country. So what we’re seeing is many fewer illnesses from raw milk cheese than from raw dairy, which isn’t alarming to begin with (an average of 49 per year).
But there seems to be no stopping the FDA and its apologists. This is like an agenda item at the North Korean communist party meeting about whether to blame the western nations for its food shortages. No doubt about who’s in charge and what gets passed. We just do a much more clever job of disguising our intentions.