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Study may prompt FDA to crack down on raw milk cheese-making

A national study has Wisconsin cheese-makers wondering if Washington will clamp down on products made from raw milk.

The Food-and-Drug Administration says the risk of disease from eating soft-ripened cheeses made from raw milk is 50-to-160 times higher than eating cheese from pasteurized milk. Wisconsin plants which make such products insist they're safe if the process is done right. The FDA says bacterial infections from listeria produce some of the highest death and hospitalization rates involving pathogenic bacteria. As a result, the agency it's studying whether a 60-day aging process for raw cheeses from unpasteurized milk is enough to kill harmful bacteria.

The Saxon Homestead Creamery near Sheboygan says it goes beyond the government's 60-day aging requirement - because it takes longer to develop its cheeses' unique flavors. Saxon says it uses only milk from its own cows to reduce the risk. But John Umhoefer, head of the Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association, tells the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel there are bad apples - and when they cause outbreaks of illnesses quote, "The whole industry cringes." That reasoning convinced former Governor Jim Doyle to veto a bill in 2010 that would have allowed sales of raw milk itself under certain conditions. The Journal-Sentinel says 22 Wisconsin cheese-makers made products from raw milk. The FDA is taking public comments on its report through April 29th.


Wisconsin's milk production continues to out-pace the country as a whole. The National Ag Statistics Service said the Badger State's dairy cows pumped out four-point-nine percent more milk in January than in the same month a year ago. The national increase was just one-half-of-one-percent. And California, America's top milk producer, had a drop in its output by 4.3 percent, to just under three-and-a-half billion pounds. Second-place Wisconsin made just over two-and-a-third billion pounds of milk last month. The state's dairy herd grew by about five-thousand, to over one-and-a-quarter million head. Average production per cow rose by 80 pounds, to 1,870. Also, the federal government reported a record national milk output for all last year. Just over 200-billion pounds were made last year, with a four-tenths of one-percent national increase in cows.