Speed Reads

The power of cheese

The FDA has effectively banned some fancy cheeses like Roquefort

New FDA restrictions on the levels of harmless bacteria found in imported cheese have effectively banned a number of artisan French cheeses, including Roquefort, Morbier, and Tomme de Savoie. The restricted bacteria already exist in the human stomach, and the banned cheeses have not changed their recipes for years.

While the restriction is already affecting imports, domestic cheese producers are under the FDA gun, too. Raw milk cheesemakers may be put out of business over a change they say is capricious at best. "There was no health risk in all the years we operated" under the old regulations, says David Gremmels of Rogue Creamery in Oregon, "We look at this as an arbitrary change."

Microbiologist and cheesemaker Cary Bryant says that the new restrictions could actually do public health more harm than good: "People need some microbial diversity in their life. This is going to create people with immune systems that can never handle anything." In addition to no microbial diversity, if the FDA persists in this measure, we may simply have no cheese: Even aged parmesan — which is about as safe as cheese can be — has come under scrutiny thanks to the ban.