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WPTZ - Welch Steps In as FDA Stirs Up Cheese Board Controversy

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Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vermont, is working on legislation to prevent the Food and Drug Administration from interfering with artisan cheesemaking.

In Waterbury on Monday, Welch said the law would be tied in with the 2015 agriculture appropriations bill to prohibit the FDA from using any money to regulate the dairy practice on cheese boards.

The FDA gas raised eyebrows about whether or not it intends to regulate cheese boards, following an email from the FDA to Welch's office.

"The use of wooden shelves for cheese ripening does not conform to current Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP) regulations, 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,'" the March email said.

Last week, Welch's office said the FDA backpedaled and said they have no plans on regulating the practice.

Welch said he is concerned action by the FDA would unfairly hurt Vermont's dairy farmers. He said it is up to individual businesses to keep their facilities clean.

"If you put cheese on cheese boards and that's prohibited, it's not as though you can't get a bacteria on stainless steel or on plastic," he said.

Cheesemaker Mateo Kehler of Jasper Hill said the controversy is putting his business in a tricky spot.

"The confusion in messaging at FDA, it becomes nearly untenable to make business decisions to plan for the future because we really don't know what exposure we're facing," Kehler said.

A scientist speaking Monday said in order for bacteria, like listeria, to grow on a cheese board, the cheese itself must be a satisfactory host. She said that's not the case with artisan cheeses or the boards.

Welch's office is using the hashtag #SaveOurCheese to get its message out.

According to the Agency of Agriculture, Vermont dairy products generate more than $560 million and are tied to 7,500 jobs.

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