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Department of Agriculture & Markets

    

Joe Morrissey, 518-457-0752, Joe.Morrissey@agriculture.ny.gov
Dave Bullard, 315-487-7711 x 1377, Dave.Bullard@agriculture.ny.gov

June 11, 2014

Statement from State Agriculture Commissioner Richard A. Ball on FDA Enforcement of a Ban on the Use of Wood to Age Cheeses

“Governor Cuomo and the Department of Agriculture and Markets have devoted significant efforts to helping our state’s dairy industry grow and thrive.  The artisanal cheese industry is a small but rapidly growing part of the dairy sector in New York State, with more than 125 cheesemakers creating world class dairy products.  These businesses create many jobs and provide diversity to the food choices of all New Yorkers. 

In 2010, FDA inspectors began conducting environmental assessments of cheesemaking facilities in New York looking for pathogens at these facilities.  These inspections resumed in 2012.  In 2013, FDA inspectors cited an Upstate New York artisanal cheese company for what it called “a repeat violation” involving aging cheese on wood.  That company subsequently entered into a consent decree with FDA and has been closed since then to take corrective action.

In September 2013, the Department of Agriculture and Markets Division of Milk Control reached out to FDA to seek clarification of the noted violations relating to aging cheese on wooden boards.  In January 2014, an FDA official provided a document called “Use of wooden shelves for cheese aging,” which said, in part:

‘The use of wooden shelves, rough or otherwise, for cheese ripening does not conform to cGMP [Current Good Manufacturing Practices] 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.’

Since that time, our Department has been working with Cornell University to assess the science behind FDA’s decision and has also engaged in conversations with FDA around this topic.  FDA indicated to our agency that it had no plans to change its policy.

I am very concerned about the damage this policy could do to these businesses, not only in New York, but across the country, and respectfully request a suspension of any enforcement actions until a full science based peer review is completed.  Aging artisanal cheeses on wood is a common practice used by cheesemakers for centuries.  Our inspectors, as well as the artisans who make these cheeses, work hard to ensure that the process of aging cheese is done safely.

I thank Secretary’s Burwell’s office for engaging Governor Cuomo’s office and my Department over the past couple of days.  I appreciate the Secretary’s commitment to resolving this issue and I am encouraged by FDA’s statement yesterday that it is willing to work with the artisan cheese industry and the cheese loving public.  We stand ready to assist the discussion in any way in which we may be helpful to turning this policy around.”

2014 Press Releases