Full list: Milk News

Seven Days LTE: Raw Deal

8/20/14
By Andrea Stander
Full Letter to the Editor

[Re “The Rise of Micro-Dairy: A Longtime Dairyman Thinks Big — By Going Small” and “Milk Test,” August 6]: I appreciate Seven Days‘ coverage of raw milk and other food issues, but there are a couple of points I’d like to clear up:First, the author’s use of the word “trafficking” in reference to farmers who are selling raw milk perpetuates the idea that raw milk is some kind of radical, under-the-table commodity. The regulations are complex, but it is legal to sell raw milk in Vermont. In fact, generations of Vermonters were and continue to be raised on raw milk. Before milk became an industrial commodity rather than a food, most people in rural areas purchased their milk from their local farmer.

Second, if Vermont truly wants to have viable farms, there has to be room for small, grass-based, raw dairy operations, and the regulations that govern them must be reasonable and fair. As the potential customer quoted in the article said, “If all products were sold that way, I’d never buy anything.” What would happen to Vermont’s celebrated local food economy if everyone had to visit the farm before purchasing products at a farmers’ market? Or, what if all farmers had to waste precious time and fuel running around delivering their products to customers’ homes?

If you want to learn more about raw milk as a farm-fresh product or as an agricultural policy issue, please contact Rural Vermont. Visit ruralvermont.org or call 223-7222 for details.

Andrea Stander
Montpelier

Stander is executive director of Rural Vermont.


Fort Worth Weekly: Got Raw Milk? (Texas)

Fort Worth puts greater distance between producers and consumers of unpasteurized milk.
August 20, 2014
By EDWARD BROWN
Full Article

One hour south of Fort Worth, the serene setting of Rosey Ridge Farms fits the often-romanticized image of agrarian life. The roads are unpaved, and there’s barely a trace of modernity among the lush, seemingly endless fields of sunflowers and other crops. Proprietor Eldon Hooley has been working the land for eight years with his wife Lisa and their six children.

Two months ago, the Fort Worth City Council passed an ordinance that prohibits individuals from distributing raw milk from their homes. Although some doctors believe the substance has certain medical benefits, health officials see serious risks, including the spread of infectious diseases. Retailers have been prohibited from selling raw milk for decades, prompting many local raw milk lovers to drive to farms like Rosey Ridge, pick up containers, and take them home to distribute.

To Kay Singleton, a longtime resident of the Arlington Heights area, the ordinance is an affront. She became interested in unprocessed foods several years ago out of concern for her grandson’s health. After discovering raw milk, she decided to volunteer her porch as a drop point for individuals to pick up containers. She purchased an expensive cooler to keep the milk cooler than 50 degrees Fahrenheit –– unpasteurized milk does not have as long a shelf life as the pasteurized version.

Then the problems with the city started. At first, Singleton said, city code compliance officials began regularly “intimidating the driver who was unloading the milk” and would tell her that what she was doing was illegal.However, with no state law or city ordinance restricting raw milk distribution, she was convinced she wasn’t violating the law.

In May, four state health inspectors, two code compliance officers, and a police officer came to her house.

“They came and scared the bejesus out of my grandson by saying in front of him that I could go to jail,” she said. “Their tone was aggressive, as if I was a criminal.”

Singleton is so dedicated to remaining a part of the raw-milk community that she believes she has no option now but to move out of Fort Worth. Her home is for sale.

The ordinance, Hooley said, is “simply saying, ‘We’re going to take your rights away.’ ”

He said inspectors from the TexasDepartment of State Health Services have unfairly targeted his farm and, on at least one occasion, suspended his license (a Grade A raw for-retail milk permit) without due process. After Hooley filed a complaint, he said, one of the department’s directors called him, apologized, and reinstated his permit.

“If consumers do their research, and they decide what food they want, then they have a personal interest in it,” he said. “Now people want to buy direct from people they trust to provide whole foods.”

State Rep. Dan Flynn of Hunt County has been working on the topic for years: “The state law says raw milk is legal. Why can’t a legal product be sold at a farmers’ market?”

Raw milk has been verboten at farmers’ markets since 2000. Flynn said that if they can begin selling raw milk, individuals would have no need to take matters into their own hands. He recently sponsored a bill to allow the sale of raw milk in farmers’ markets, but it never made it to a floor vote. “It was late in the session, and time ran out” he said.

At committee hearings, more than 250 people testified, including numerous doctors who spoke about the medical benefits of raw milk in treating psoriasis and respiratory problems. “It would be disappointing if Fort Worth’s city council didn’t want the innumerable medical benefits from raw milk,” Flynn said.

Fort Worth spokesperson Bill Begley said the ordinance places “reasonable limitations” on the distribution of unpasteurized milk without prohibiting local residents from purchasing or consuming it –– only directly from farmers.

Pete Kennedy, president of the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund that works to protect American farmers’ right to engage consumers directly, said the consumer health division of Fort Worth’s code compliance department is one of the most intrusive agencies he’s ever seen. Texas, he added, is one of the few places where state law allows the sale of raw milk while many cities ban it.

Despite the concerns of the Texas Medical Association and State Health Services, among others, Flynn plans to keep fighting.

“We have every intention of filing the bill again,” he said.


Seven Days: A Longtime Dairyman Thinks Big — and Goes Small

Go big or get out: That’s the conventional wisdom that has been driving the dairy industry in recent decades. Plenty of Vermont farmers have chosen the second option. As commodity milk prices have yo-yoed between record highs and crushing lows, mid-size dairies in particular have felt the squeeze. In the last decade alone, the total number of Vermont dairy farms dropped from 1,433 to 993, according to the Vermont Agency of Agriculture.

But not all of the surviving operations are large ones, milking thousands of cows. In fact, a growing percentage of Vermont’s remaining milk farms are small. Between 2007 and 2012, the number of dairy farms with fewer than 10 cows increased by more than 30 percent to 217, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture That’s almost one quarter of Vermont’s dairy farms. Small dairy herd numbers are on the rise nationally as well.

In Royalton, one longtime dairyman is singing the praises of this new model — the so-called “micro-dairy” — and supplying its practitioners with the equipment they need.

“At one point I had a farm with 250 head of cows, and I didn’t enjoy it,” said Steven Judge, who has been milking the animals for more than 50 years. Today, he keeps a tiny herd of four Jersey cows on his small, hilly Royalton farmstead.

Judge runs Bob-White Systems, a company that invented a small-scale pasteurizer designed for processing milk on farms. But the mini-pastuerizer comes with a hefty price tag: $70,000. So Judge is diversifying, brokering the purchase of bulk tanks, butter churns and other milking equipment specifically designed for micro-dairies.

The idea behind Bob-White is to put farmers in charge of their own destinies. That means being able to pasteurize — the process of heating milk to kill most of the possible pathogens, protect against disease and slow spoilage caused by microbial growth — on-site instead of shipping milk to a big processor, where it is combined with milk from other farms and eventually pasteurized and homogenized. Marketing its products directly to consumers allows a micro-dairy to command higher prices.

In July, Judge may have solved another problem for small dairy operations: His farm hosts the only private lab in Vermont certified by the Food and Drug Administration to test the safety and quality of raw milk being sold by farmers. Under Vermont law, farmers selling more than 87.5 gallons of raw milk each week must have their milk tested monthly. Prior to Bob-White’s recent FDA certification, that required driving samples to the state lab in Burlington.

Why the growing interest in small dairies?

“A lot of folks see it as part of a diversified business plan,” said Andrea Stander, the director of the farm advocacy group Rural Vermont. Manure enriches soil. Byproducts from milk processing, like whey, can be used to feed pigs or fertilize cropland. It’s hard for Vermont to compete against California or the Midwest in commercial dairy production, said Stander, but the state excels in other ways.

“One of the things we do really well in Vermont is grow grass,” she said. “We have the climate for it, we have the history for it. A small-scale, grass-based dairy has real potential to be economically viable as part of a diversified farming system.”

When he started dreaming about designing his own small-scale pasteurizer, Judge applied some of the same thinking that guided an earlier enterprise with similar goals. In the early 1990s he founded Vermont Milk Producers and created the Vermont Family Farms brand of milk. The goal was to market milk under a Vermont label, and pay farmers more than they would otherwise earn in commercial production. He ultimately sold the label to a larger dairy co-op, St. Albans Cooperative Creamery. The St. Albans co-op passed the brand off to Hood, and eventually the label disappeared.

His new project puts dairy science back in the hands of farmers. Judge’s pasteurization device, called the LiLi (short for low imput, low impact) was initially plagued with problems. The first prototype — which Judge said he and his engineers tested extensively — couldn’t pass FDA approval. Consultant Amy Shollenberger stepped in to help Bob-White navigate the regulatory landscape, and said she quickly realized that the food-safety and production rules around dairy processing were designed with bigger operations in mind.

“They had to figure out how to work within the rules at this tiny little scale,” said Shollenberger.

Cornwall businessman Bruce Hiland, who has known Judge for years, said Judge faced an uphill battle when it came to bringing the LiLi to market.

“Steve has done a remarkable job of fighting his way through the established order to come up with, in this case, a really imaginative, creative, effective device that will help small family farms,” said Hiland.

By offering “gentler” pasteurization than some larger-scale equipment, Judge claims the LiLi better preserves the taste of fresh milk. “The flavor of milk is every bit as complex as wine, but it’s been forgotten and ignored,” said Judge.

But getting the LiLi onto farms has been tough, given the price tag. The model that eventually earned that stamp of approval required significant, costly engineering changes — including a larger pump and heat exchanger, more expensive valves and programmable computer controls.

“It exists to enforce regulations, not to encourage innovation,” Judge said of the Food and Drug Administration in an email. “I don’t blame the FDA, I just found the lack of an established and predictable review process to be extremely frustrating and expensive.”

Bob-White has sold exactly one of the LiLi machines, to Back to the Future Farm in Westtown, NY. Farmers Lee and Rose Hubbert and Mike O’Dell bottle whole and chocolate milk from a herd of 50 Jersey and Holstein cows. They sell milk under their own label locally and plan to expand to New York City markets later this month.

Rose Hubbert said the farmers investigated other pasteurization systems and found the LiLi operated much faster. That’s crucial for processing the 300 gallons a day they milk from their herd. “I think it’s going to pay off in no time at all, to be honest with you,” said Hubbert. “We’re selling a lot more milk than we had ever dreamed of.”

The LiLi’s rocky and expensive start prompted Judge to explore other revenue streams for Bob-White Systems. That’s why he began selling dairy equipment specifically for small producers. On a recent afternoon at his modest Royalton office, he pointed out milk pails, cream separators and cleaning supplies.

Judge also began importing small-scale bulk tanks — the stainless steel vats into which fresh milk is pumped and stored. At the time, he said, the smallest tanks available in the U.S. had a capacity of 600 gallons. Working first with a facility in Slovenia, then with one in Greece, he began selling bulk tanks with capacities between 15 and 90 gallons.

“Everybody thought I was crazy to try to sell these little bulk tanks,” said Judge, noting it was the same reaction he got when he decided to build a milking barn for four cows. He estimates Bob-White Systems has sold roughly 250 tanks, ranging in cost from roughly $2,400 to $4,400, to micro-dairies around the country.

One of Judge’s customers is Lindsay Harris, a dairy farmer in Tunbridge. Harris and her husband, Evan Reiss, cut their teeth as raw milk farmers at the Family Cow Farmstand in Hinesburg, where at the time they were the state’s largest raw milk dairy. Harris said the proximity to a major urban center made the business economically viable, but she and her family wanted to live in a more rural setting.

They sold the business last year, and moved to Tunbridge to start Mountain Home Farm. Harris said she knew a raw milk business wouldn’t sustain the family in the more remote location, so she and Reiss began making cultured butter, ricotta cheese and other lightly processed dairy products from eight cows. They bought a butter churn from Bob-White Systems.

“It was the only one I could find anywhere in the country, and here I’m 12 miles from his shop,” she said.

She noted that Judge has made the micro-dairy industry a lot more accessible since the time she and Reiss started the Family Cow 10 years ago. At that time, they couldn’t find a small bulk tank anywhere in the United States, and had to import one — for roughly $5,000 — from Europe.

Harris’ choice to remain small was a complicated one. On one hand, she said, it’s incredibly difficult to make a micro-dairy work financially. Even something as simple as buying a small supply of labels for her milk products is difficult; suppliers are used to dealing in truckloads, she said, not boutique quantities.

But she likes having total control over her herd and her product, and having a hand in every step of production.

“I think it takes a pretty special situation to make it profitable, to make it work,” she said — and Mountain Home Farm isn’t yet at that point. Harris and Reiss are exploring other ways to derive income from their farm, including sustainable forestry.

“You aren’t going to send your kids to college and vacation in Europe on a micro-dairy,” Judge agreed. “It’s a supplemental income.”

For now, Judge is still mulling over the problem of the LiLi and trying to design a pasteurizer that costs less and will still earn FDA approval. All a pasteurizer needs to do, he pointed out, is heat milk to 161 degrees Fahrenheit and hold it at that temperature for 15 seconds.

“Why should a machine that is capable of doing that cost more than a new BMW?” he asked. “It doesn’t make sense.”


National Family Farm Coalition: Vermont’s GMO Labeling and Raw Milk Access Gain Legal Status

By Andrea Stander
Summer 2014 Newsletter
Full Article
On May 8, Governor Peter Shumlin signed Vermont’s “no-strings-attached” GMO Food Labeling bill into law (Act 120), which is also first in the nation. This is a huge victory for everyone who eats and wouldn’t have been possible without the enormous support of not only Vermont citizens and dedicated activists but many from around the country these past three legislative sessions. Thank you to everyone who worked so hard to achieve this important step in protecting our right to choose the food that supports our values. You can see a slide show of photos from the GMO Labeling Bill Signing Ceremony here.
The VT Right to Know Coalition, of which Rural Vermont is a founding member, will continue its work in several areas: We are assembling all the lessons we learned and resources we gathered during the campaign to share with other states working GMO labeling bills and ballot initiatives.
We will develop materials to help Vermont citizens participate in the Attorney General’s rule-making process to implement the GMO Labeling law.
We are supporting the effort to raise money to support implementation and
defense of the new law through the Vermont Food Fight Fund that Governor
Shumlin announced when he signed the bill. If you or your organization can
help spread the word about the fund it will be greatly appreciated. We need to show the corporate bullies that  there is broad and deep support for the right to know what is in our food.
Grocery Manufacturers’ Association, et. al., file suit
Late in the afternoon of Thursday, June 12, the Grocery Manufacturers’
Association and industrial food allies the Snack Food Association, International
Dairy Foods Association and National Association of Manufacturers, filed a law-
suit in federal district court to strike down Vermont’s law.
Although the lawsuit does not raise any unexpected issues, it does mark the
beginning of what will likely be a landmark legal battle over the people’s right to
know vs. corporate right to hide.
This summer Rural Vermont’s Board and staff will be developing plans for our
next steps in addressing the broader concerns related to genetically engineered
food and corporate control of our food system. For more information, write andrea@ruralvermont.org or call 802-522-3284.
Raw Milk Bill Becomes Law: Farmers’ Markets Delivery Began July 1!
On Tuesday, May 27, Governor Peter Shumlin signed S.70, now Act 149, into
law. The new law makes modest improvements to the statute governing the
production and sale of raw milk in Vermont.
After hearing testimony on opposing sides from state and national experts, the
Legislature made improvements to the current raw milk law, including authorizing the delivery of raw milk to farmers’ markets for Tier 2 producers. Although
Act 149 makes only modest improvements in providing greater access to raw
milk, taking testimony and debating the bill significantly raised the profile of raw
milk among legislators and increased the level of respect for the farmers who
provide this esteemed product.
Act 149 will provide the following improvements in access to raw milk:
As of July 1, 2014, Tier 2 raw milk producers are able to deliver raw milk to existing customers at farmers’ markets where they sell. (Existing customer means someone who previously made a visit to the farm to make their initial purchase of raw milk.) Act 149 changes the daily sales limit to an aggregate weekly limit for both Tier 1 and Tier 2 producers, providing greater flexibility for farmers and convenience for customers. There are some additional requirements regarding cold storage capacity and protection of shelf life. Act 149 also clarifies that raw milk producers need only provide the “opportunity” for customers to take a tour of their farm.
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For more details about these changes to the law, please read Rural Vermont’s Fact Sheet on Act 149. You may also read our updated “cheat sheet” on the requirements for Tier 1 and Tier 2 producers. Rural Vermont will reach out to raw milk producers and customers about opportunities offered by the new law. We will also continue our campaign for commonsense, scale-appropriate regulation of raw dairy and all other farm fresh food. For more information, write shelby@ruralvermont.org or call the office at 802-223-7222.

NPR: Raw Milk Producers Aim To Regulate Themselves


My Champlain Valley: Raw Milk Can Now Be Delivered to VT Farmers Markets

By Kristen Tripodi
07/01/2014
Full Article & Video

Starting Tuesday, raw milk can be delivered to farmers markets in Vermont. It’s all a part of a new law that was signed by Governor Peter Shumlin during the 2014 legislative session.

According to Rural Vermont—an organization that represents farmers, the new law says raw milk can be delivered to farmers’ markets by Tier 2 raw milk producers.

It gives increased access to markets for raw milk producers by allowing delivery to farmers’ markets.

The new law does not allow farmers to sell the raw milk at a farmers market. They can only deliver the product to customers who have already paid for the product.

To review the new law, click here.


Times Argus: Farmers markets get a raw (milk) deal

By Eric Blaisdell
July 06,2014
Full Article

MONTPELIER — History was made Saturday at the Capital City Farmers Market as raw milk was delivered for the first time under a new law — though the man delivering the milk wishes the new rules had gone even further.

Act 149, legislation that allows dairy farmers to deliver raw milk to farmers markets, went into effect July 1. The farmers can’t outright sell the milk at the markets, but can hand it over to customers who purchased the product previously.

The law requires a potential customer to first go to the farm where they want to purchase the raw milk. After one visit, the customer can thereafter purchase milk from the farmer without going to the farm.

The state already regulates who can sell raw milk, breaking farmers into two tiers, with the second tier reserved for bigger producers. Tier-two farmers, or those who sell up to 280 gallons of raw milk per week, were allowed to sell the milk at their farms or deliver to the customer’s home, before the recent law expanding delivery to farmers markets.

Frank Huard, a goat farmer from Craftsbury Common, was the first at the farmers market in Montpelier to take advantage of the new law. The Huard Family Farm has won the state’s highest quality milk award for its goat’s milk from the Vermont Dairy Industry Association in 2009, 2011 and 2013.

Huard said being able to deliver the milk at farmers markets is important because it gives small farmers the opportunity to expand into larger markets. It’s also more convenient for both the farmer and the consumer to pick up the milk at a spot where both were planning to be anyway.

Even so, Huard said he was disappointed the law requires customers to visit his farm before they can purchase his milk.

“It’s difficult for some people,” he said. “It’s just not convenient to ask them to drive all the way to Craftsbury to purchase milk. People are busy. I’m almost an hour away, so if they come and stay for 15 or 20 minutes and drive back, that’s almost three hours of (their) time.”

Huard said he had hoped the law would allow him to pick up new customers at the farmers market, not just at his farm. But he said he’d take the law as it is for now, calling it baby steps in the right direction for making raw milk more easily accessible to consumers in Vermont.

The man who was picking up the goat’s milk delivery from Huard was Alan LePage, owner and operator of LePage Farm in Barre. LePage also sells his own produce at the Capital City Farmers Market and is president of the Barre Farmers Market.

LePage said the new law was written because of farmers like Huard, and that people should be free to choose the food they want.

“I resent the fact that the state seems to think they know better than anyone else about the subject,” LePage said.

He said raw milk, which he has been drinking for 40 years, is no more dangerous than any other food or drink.

“The risks of raw milk spoilage are much less than they are with pasteurized milk,” LePage said. “The risks (of raw milk) are vastly exaggerated. If pasteurized milk spoils, there’s all kinds of bad things that can get into it. Whereas, raw milk generally makes cheese (when it spoils). You put it in a goat skin and travel to the other side of the hill on a 90 degree day, you’ve got cheese. That’s how cheese was invented. You can’t do that with pasteurized milk.”

LePage said raw milk has enzymes that pasteurized milk doesn’t. Those enzymes help keep certain pathogens out of raw milk.

As to why our food producers long ago started to pasteurize milk, he said it began when people started producing adulterated milk in what he called “dungeons” in the cities.

“Basically (the cows) were fed waste from breweries and basic inedible substances and the milk they produced was horrible,” he said. “People were dying from it. Rather than clean up these places and ban them, they simply insisted that all milk be pasteurized.”


Forbes: FDA Backs Down In Fight Over Aged Cheese

Greg McNeal
4
Full Article

The FDA is backing away (at least temporarily) from a policy statement that declared cheese makers would no longer be able to age their cheese on wooden boards. The statement caused outrage in the artisan cheese community and consumers quickly came to the aid of the industry signing onto a petition and expressing their outrage through social media. The American Cheese Society released a position statement, and it was clear that the industry was prepared to fight back if the FDA did not change its position.

Today, the FDA claimed that it in fact had not issued a new policy, they stated:

“The FDA does not have a new policy banning the use of wooden shelves in cheese-making, 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.

In the interest of public health, the FDA’s current regulations state that utensils and other surfaces that contact food must be “adequately cleanable” and properly maintained. Historically, the FDA has expressed concern about whether wood meets this requirement and has noted these concerns in inspectional findings. FDA is always open to evidence that shows that wood can be safely used for specific purposes, such as aging cheese.

The FDA will engage with the artisanal cheese-making community to determine whether certain types of cheeses can safely be made by aging them on wooden shelving.”

Good for the FDA for backing down. Although it’s unfortunate that they are dodging accountability by claiming they did not change their policy. The American Cheese Society released a .PDF version of the statement by FDA’s Branch Chief Monica Metz, the chief official responsible for food safety issues involving cheese. In that document she stated

The use of wooden shelves, rough or otherwise, for cheese ripening does not conform to cGMP requirements, which require that “all plant equipment and utensils shall be so designed and of such material and workmanship as to be adequately cleanable, and shall be properly maintained.” 21 CFR 110.40(a). Wooden shelves or boards cannot be adequately cleaned and sanitized. The porous structure of wood enables it to absorb and retain bacteria, therefore bacteria generally colonize not only the surface but also the inside layers of wood. The shelves or boards used for aging make direct contact with finished products; hence they could be a potential source of pathogenic microorganisms in the finished products.

So let’s consider this a clarification, of their earlier clarification, which improperly characterized their official policy. Either way it’s good news.

This is also a lesson for people in other regulated industries. When government officials make pronouncements that don’t seem grounded in law or policy, and threaten your livelihood with an enforcement action, you must organize and fight back. While specialized industries may think that nobody cares, the fight over aged cheese proves that people’s voices can be heard.

While this is clearly a victory for the cheese industry, nothing is stopping the FDA from promulgating new regulations, so cheese makers will need to stay pay attention to what the FDA does next. FDA spokesperson Lauren Sucher signaled as much when she stated the agency would “engage with the artisanal cheese-making community to determine whether certain types of cheeses can safely be made by aging them on wooden shelving.” That sounds like the FDA is planning to make some new regulations, and the engagement will likely come through the notice and comment rule-making process I described here.


New York Times: F.D.A. Rule May Alter Cheese-Aging Process

By STEPHANIE STROM and KIM SEVERSON
June 10, 2014
Full Article

A decision by the Food and Drug Administration to question the use of wooden planks to age some cheeses has produced a stink that rivals Limburger, prompting an uproar among the artisanal cheese makers and consumers who fear they might lose access to products like obscure blue cheeses from Vermont and imported Parmigiano-Reggiano.

The agency recently interpreted a decades-old regulation requiring that cheese-making equipment be designed and constructed of material that is “adequately cleanable” in ways that made it appear that wood, which has been used for centuries to help age cheese, was no longer sanitary enough.

“The porous nature of wood enables it to absorb and retain bacteria, therefore bacteria generally colonize not only the surface but also the inside layers of wood,” Monica Metz, chief of the dairy and egg branch of the Office of Food Safety, wrote in a letter to the New York State Agriculture Department at the beginning of this year.

For some styles of cheese, wood is an essential part of the process. It aids in the control of moisture that helps form rinds on big wheels of English Cheddar and small, delicate washed-rind cheeses. It also provides an amenable surface for the microbes that add flavor and character to cheese.

But the wrong bacteria can sicken consumers, which is what the F.D.A. was trying to control with its initial decision.

Cheese makers from California to Vermont took to social media in the last few days to express outrage. The hashtag #saveourcheese surfaced on Twitter. Chefs and cheese lovers took to Facebook and blogs to rebut the notion that wood was harmful.

Tuesday evening, the agency seemed to backtrack, saying that it planned to work with artisanal cheese makers “to determine whether certain types of cheeses can safely be made by aging them on wooden shelving.”

To take away wood as part of the cheese-making process would mean wholesale change for more than a third of the cheese makers in America and could have implications for imported cheese, about half of which is aged on wood, said Nora Weiser, the executive director of the American Cheese Society, an organization that represents the nation’s farmstead and artisanal cheese makers.

In Wisconsin alone, more than 33 million pounds of cheese — of the 2.7 billion pounds produced in the state — is sitting on wooden shelving, she said.

“Wood is a perfectly safe surface,” she said.

The F.D.A., however, says wood could be a potentially hazardous surface, and recently cracked down on one small cheese maker in New York, which prompted state officials to seek clarification from the agency.

The issue began during an F.D.A. inspection in 2012, when the Finger Lakes Farmstead Cheese Company in Trumansburg, N.Y., was barred from making cheese after Listeria monocytogenes, a type of bacteria that can cause fatal illnesses, was found on one of the wooden boards on which cheese was aged, as well as on other surfaces.

Ms. Taber Richards cleaned and disinfected her equipment and kitchen yet again, conferring with the F.D.A. about what cleaning products and processes she was using. “It was kind of like trying to hit a moving target in the dark,” she said. “I never knew explicitly what they wanted done.”

So in October 2013, she was surprised to receive a letter from the F.D.A. demanding that she agree to a consent decree stipulating that she could not receive, prepare, process, pack, hold or distribute food until she developed a program to rid her operations of listeria once and for all or face a lawsuit.

“I thought I had been cooperative and responsive,” she said. “But when I called, they said, ‘You didn’t get rid of your wooden aging shelves.’ Well, no one had ever told me I needed to get rid of them.”

State regulators then wanted to know whether that prohibition on wood applied to all cheese makers, and in January, Ms. Metz sent them her interpretation of the federal regulation requiring equipment that was “adequately cleanable.”

She did not definitively state that wood could not be used to process cheese, however, and cheese makers in New York continued to fume.

“Were they going to enforce a ban on wood in New York but not Wisconsin, in Pennsylvania but not France?” said Robert Ralyea, a senior extension associate in the department of food science at Cornell University and a cheese maker himself. “All we knew was that a ban was enforced on Finger Lakes Farmstead Cheese.”

So on Thursday, Mr. Ralyea started an email blast “to a relatively large crowd,” which lit up social media and the blogosphere.

Vince Razionale of Jasper Hill in Greensboro, Vt., where a series of aging caves are lined with wooden shelving that hold prizewinning cheeses, said, “We’re feeling really nervous about this whole situation. Like a lot of other cheese makers, we’re feeling very exposed.”

Representative Peter Welch, Democrat of Vermont, now plans to attach an amendment to an agriculture appropriations bill moving through Congress that would prohibit the F.D.A. from spending any money to enforce a ban on the use of wooden shelves in cheese making. He said he expected widespread support from lawmakers in Wisconsin, New York and other states with large cheese production.

“The F.D.A. is mixing up the hygienic practices of a producer with the materials being used in production,” Mr. Welch said. “If you have an unhygienic operation in the production of food, probably everything is going to be infected, so is the F.D.A. going to ban the use of stainless steel when it finds listeria on it?”

He said the issue was creating a tremendous amount of financial uncertainty among cheese makers, noting that Jasper Hill would have to spend about $20 million to replace the wooden shelving it uses for aging.

He said a ban on wood also would affect the taste of cheeses that rely on it for aging and kick off an international trade war. “Many European cheeses are aged on wood, so if the F.D.A. enforces this rule, it will mean those cheeses cannot be imported into the United States and that will surely lead to retaliation,” Mr. Welch said.

The statement issued by the F.D.A. on Tuesday noted that the ban was not a new policy because the regulation on “adequately cleanable” utensils and surfaces dated back to 1986. “Historically, the F.D.A. has expressed concern about whether wood meets this requirement and has noted these concerns in inspectional findings,” the agency said, adding that it was “always open to evidence that shows that wood can be safely used for specific purposes, such as aging cheese.”

Mr. Welch snorted when the statement was read to him. “They should be able to give a definitive point of view one way or the other rather than creating more ambiguity and uncertainty with their wishy-washy statement,” he said.


WCSH: Food sovereignty fight taken to Maine’s highest court

By Tim Goff
May 13, 2014
Full Article and Video

PORTLAND, Maine (NEWS CENTER) — A fight over local control and food sovereignty that began in the fields of Blue Hill more than two and a half years ago, spilled over into the state’s highest court on Tuesday.

Justices with the Maine Judicial Supreme Court heard arguments from lawyers representing Dan Brown, a small farmer fighting against sanctions imposed by the Maine Department of Agriculture that stem from his sale of raw milk on his farm without a license.

“I can’t give my neighbor a half gallon of milk. This is crazy talk,” exclaimed Brown as he stood outside the Cumberland County Courthouse.

Brown says it was about ten years ago when he and his wife, Judy, decided to start a small farm operation on their land at their home in Blue Hill. They had a handful of chickens and added a couple of cows.

“I loved it. It was a way of life,” said Brown.

They were producing more milk than they could consume, so Brown says he approached the state to see if they could sell the raw, unpasteurized milk, he was told he could on his farm as long as he didn’t advertise he was doing it.

“I was following their directions,” he explained. “I asked them what can I do? Where can I sell my milk? ‘If you sell from your farm, we don’t need to know you’,” he says he was told.

For several years he says they’re weren’t any problems. His operation grew to roughly 300 chickens and eight cows. He invested money in a farm stand and started making cheese and other products along with selling vegetables. Brown says he never worked so hard in his life, or was as content working as when he was fixing things on the farm.

In 2011, an inspector with the state paid his farm a visit. Brown says he was told he needed to make numerous improvements to comply with state regulations. He estimates it would have cost between $20,000 and $60,000 to meet the requirements.

“To produce a couple gallons a day, how could you ever recoup that?” he wondered. “It is the infrastructure needed to produce the milk to fall under a commercial dairy license.”

Brown closed his doors for about a week. Other farmers in the area reached out to him and told him the laws had not changed and that he should continue operating as he had been. So he reopened and was soon sued by the state.

Dan Brown says paying for the required license was never the issue, but the amount of money he would have had to invest to build the infrastructure to fall under a commercial dairy license was beyond his capabilities and something he was not interested in doing.

“This is about more than one man, milking one cow and selling its milk to his neighbor,” stated State Representative Brian Jones, at a rally before Brown’s hearing outside the courthouse. “We support the right of communities to determine how they will manage the production and distribution of food among themselves and the rights of individuals to determine what foods they will eat.”

Jones joined Brown and roughly two dozen of Brown’s supporters on the courthouse steps before his case was heard. All of them support local food sovereignty ordinances like the one passed in Blue Hill back in 2011. The ordinances seek to protect small scale food producers from having to comply with state and federal regulations and inspections.

“I am here because I believe food raised by a community, for a community, within a community should be regulated by that community,” said Heather Rhetberg, who traveled to Portland from her farm in Penobscot to show her support for Brown.

Eleven Maine towns have passed food sovereignty ordinances in recent years in an effort to support their local economies and keep them in business supplying their friends and neighbors with food grown or made in their own backyards.

Gary Cox, a lawyer with the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund traveled from Ohio to Maine to represent Brown before the Supreme Court. He says if Brown is successful in his appeal it will “be a huge victory for food sovereignty”.

The state, which imposed a fine of $1000 on Brown for selling raw milk without a license, believes state and federal statutes supersede local ordinances.

“The department really does support local food sales and these kinds of transactions between farmers and individuals,” stated Randlett. “But, again as I pointed out, it can’t be without rules.”

The Maine Judicial Supreme Court is expected to issue its findings in the coming weeks.