The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has, apparently, started to enforce a rule after the FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition issued citations to several New York State cheesemakers for the use of wood shelves, which prompted an inquiry from the state government, which allows the practice.
In response, the FDA clarified its position, saying that the use of wood shelves violates a provision of its Current Good Manufacturing Practice regulations that requires “all plant equipment…to be adequately cleanable.” The agency is applying this interpretation to all imports as well — an important aspect, since the majority of cheeses imported from Europe are aged on wood.
With the Intertubes that discussion has, within 24 hours, turned conspiratorial.
“A sense of disbelief and distress is quickly rippling through the U.S. artisan cheese community,” according to the Wisconsin blog Cheese Underground.
Naturally, conservatives and libertarians see this move as yet another assault on liberty by the Obama administration. It’s not. It’s a dumb mistake by the F.D.A., not a metaphor for overreach that implies the government should also stop regulating coal emissions and health insurance policies
This afternoon, responding to the uproar in the cheese world, FDA. issued a statement saying it was willing to work with artisanal cheese makers to determine if some cheeses could be safely made on wooden boards. The agency is “always open to evidence that shows that wood can be safely used for specific purposes, such as aging cheese,” the statement said, according to the Associated Press.
Any government agency needs to clearly and effectively communicate risk-based decisions, and provide the evidence to back a particular decision.
Otherwise, a risk information vacuum is created, and others will rush in to fill that space.