FDA Deputy Director Taylor Meets with Artisan Cheesemakers

8 years ago Jasmine Romero 3 Minute(s) to read

College Park, MD (February 12, 2016) – Following the release of a statement by the U.S. Food
and Drug Administration (FDA) earlier this week expressing respect for the artisan cheesemaking
community and announcing that FDA is "pausing its testing program for non-toxigenic E. coli in
cheese," FDA Deputy Director for Foods and Veterinary Medicine, Michael Taylor, met with raw
milk cheese producers yesterday to learn more about the concerns of the American artisan
cheese industry. This Listening Session was held at FDA's Center for Food Safety and Applied
Nutrition, where Mr. Taylor was joined by Dr. Susan Mayne, Director of the Center for Food
Safety and Applied Nutrition, and a number of pertinent FDA staff.

In opening remarks, American Cheese Society (ACS) Executive Director, Nora Weiser,
expressed that “ACS’s desire to preserve and protect traditional cheesemaking practices; ensure
safe, diverse products for consumers; and work with regulators to avoid undue and unnecessary
barriers to growth are shared by many allied industry groups.” Ms. Weiser went on to name over
twenty industry groups that support ACS in this direction, including numerous regional cheese
guilds, international cheese organizations, and other dairy industry groups.

Seven ACS members, all raw milk cheesemakers from around the country, lent their voices to
advance the dialogue and understanding that are needed to ensure continued growth of the
artisan cheese sector. Presenting cheesemakers focused on several key issues:

  • A need for transparency in rule-making, including the process that leads to policy change,
    as well as discussion with stakeholders to understand real-world implications early in the
    rule-making process
  • Collaborative engagement between regulators and cheesemakers including sharing of
    best practices, data, and science-based information
  • Concern over the uncertain climate for raw milk cheesemakers, in particular regarding
    potential changes to the 60-day aging rule for raw milk cheeses
  • Building trust after years of interactions that focused on enforcement of rules rather than
    enhancement of safety outcomes
  • Impact of the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) on artisan, farmstead, and specialty
  • Recognition of the value and visibility of specialty cheese among consumers; its
    importance in strengthening rural economies; and its role in growing the entire dairy and
    cheese sector. 

  • Mr. Taylor emphasized that “we have to work together, and ACS is positioned for leadership in
    helping FDA understand what works for your product.” He went on to explain that preventive
    controls (PC) are about industry knowing what is needed and assessing what history has shown
    is successful. In response to ongoing concerns over changes to the 60-day aging rule, Taylor
    assured the group that any change to the rule will not be a surprise to stakeholders, and that this
    open dialogue is a prelude to any future rule-making or comment process. He stated that we must
    “look at raw milk cheese in [the] context of the PC framework.”

Dr. Mayne agreed, stressing the importance of science. She pledged that FDA will seek outside
consult from academia and science in approaching artisan cheese safety. She sees moving
forward in three steps: dialogue, which was furthered at the Listening Session; data, which must
be shared openly; and scientific engagement, with technical discussions informed by what
cheesemakers are doing.

Spurred by Taylor and Mayne, those present agreed that the next step is to pull together a group
of relevant stakeholders, technical experts, and appropriate FDA staff to convene and discuss
what preventive controls might look like for raw milk cheesemaking, and how testing can play its
appropriate role in verifying controls.

Jeremy Stephenson, cheesemaker at Spring Brook Farm in Vermont and member of the ACS
Board of Directors, captured the theme of the meeting when he stated, “Concrete, measurable
steps need to be taken on the part of FDA at every level to give the cheesemaking community
confidence that regulators are operating in the spirit of FSMA. We need and value good
regulation both to protect our customers as well as our collective industry.”

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