The Controversy Between The FDA (Food and Drug Administration) and The Local Cheesemakers

9 Nov

There are two types of cheese lovers: the first kind buys cheeses prepared with Raw-milk ingredients and the second kind buys cheeses that have passed the Pasteurization process. Luckily for both types, these cheeses can sell well in different markets worldwide. However, for years there has been an ongoing disagreement between government agencies and local farmers in different states of the U.S. in regards to what is best for the overall public health.

(Photograph by Simona Trakiyska)

Many of the Raw-milk manufacturers argue that dairy products should be consumed naturally, without any pasteurization. Local Raw-milk farmers and supporters highlight the important benefits of consuming Raw-milk, some of which may include the reduction of existing allergies and the disappearance of eczema. Consumers and retailers also believe that Raw-milk products are naturally healing and that the pasteurization process harms the milk’s delicate structure making it completely distorted and no longer nutritional.

In the Raw-milk community, many wonder how come the import of European cheeses continues, but local farms are being shut down.

This was the case for Kelli Estrella, an ex-local creamery farmer who was well known throughout Seattle, Wash. She was in the cheese business for a total of 8 years, often selling her products at Farmers Markets. In 2010, Estrella’s creamery was shut down. Estrella was recently invited to the University of Washington to speak about this issue. From our discussion I understood that the creamery was shut down mainly because Estrella refused to comply with what she referred to as the FDA’s repetitive and unreasonable requirements. Under the FDA’s instructions, Estrella changed many things in her creamery, from the interior, to the improvement of floors and the ventilation systems. The renovations cost her thousands of dollars, she says. When the FDA returned for an audit, they tasted the cheeses in the creamery, where they found a few positive Listeria swaps; which can be a very harmful bacteria when spread through the unpasteurized of Raw-milk into humans. However, a journalist who reported on the story, Maureen O’Hagan, stated in her article “No illnesses have been linked with the cheeses, the state Department of Health said.”

Raw-milk manufactures, farmers and consumers argue that the war between the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the local farmers is based on issues such as politics, civil rights and economics.

Scientists strongly disagree that products made out of Raw-milk are beneficial to the public. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), says that foods with untreated milk may cause serious health problems. For instance, unpasteurized Raw-milk carries dangerous microorganisms that can transfer to our bodies and that can cause serious foodborne illnesses.The CDC warns pregnant women, young children and elderly people with weak immune system to avoid drinking Raw-milk or any products made out of Raw-milk at all cost.

The CDC states on the homepage of their website: “The presence of germs in raw milk is unpredictable. The number of disease-causing germs in the raw milk may be too low to make a person sick for a long time, and later high enough to make the same person seriously ill. For some people, drinking contaminated raw milk just once could make them really sick. Even if you trust the farmer and your store, raw milk is never a guaranteed safe product. Drinking raw milk means taking a real risk of getting very sick.”

(Joanne Marcia Silberner)

Joanne Marcia Silberner, a University of Washington Professor of Public Health and Communications and a practicing journalist for over 30 years says that it is crucial to always hear both sides of the story. Silberner believes that people’s attitudes can be influenced my many different factors, but people should always remember that the “Absence of proof is not proof of absence.” “You can hear something and be completely convinced by it.” Therefore, having perceptions may cause you to never know the other side of the story.

And so, inspection standards can be costly and our biological systems can be very complex, but despite all of the differences between local farmers and FDA representatives, we need to strive as a community towards one common goal – the improvement of public health. On the Raw-milk side we need to be cautious of side effects and we need to invest in studies, which may help us determine the unknowns, the pros and the cons for consumers and patients. On the FDA side, the public needs to be well informed about the procedures for shutting down a company due to violations and the details about the regulations in place such as positive swaps, renovations or audits.

I am interested to know what is your story with Raw-milk, what do you think?

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