June 16, 2014
Dr. Margaret A. Hamburg, Commissioner
U.S. Food and Drug Administration
10903 New Hampshire Avenue
Silver Spring, MD 20993
Re: FDA statements regarding the use of wooden boards in the cheese aging process
Dear Commissioner Hamburg:
As members of the Wisconsin Legislature and strong supporters of our state’s cheese-making heritage, we appreciate the prompt reply to the concerns surrounding the practice of creating artisan cheese by using wooden ripening boards. We were very troubled by the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) recent public interpretation of 21 CFR 110.40(a) and its subsequent clarifications pronouncing doubt over whether the practice was allowed. At best, the various interpretations have created confusion and uncertainty for the industry.
As you know, Wisconsin takes great pride in being the Dairy State and in our world-renowned, award-winning cheeses. Agriculture contributes $59 billion annually to our economy, and dairy represents a significant share, amounting to $26.5 billion annually. At any given time, Wisconsin cheesemakers have between 20 million to 30 million pounds of cheese aging on wooden boards. This has been a safe and standard practice in Wisconsin and around the world for generations.
Earlier this year Monica Metz of the FDA stated that the “use of wooden shelves….for cheese ripening does not conform to cGMP requirements” and that “wooden shelves or boards cannot be adequately cleaned and sanitized.” We know that the FDA has recently attempted to put the issue to rest through an official statement on its website. The statement said, “To be clear, we have not and are not prohibiting or banning the long-standing practice of using wood shelving in artisanal cheese. Nor does the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) require any such action. Reports to the contrary are not accurate.”
However, we are concerned that this issue will come up again and we urge you to give due consideration to the food safety protocols and cheese-making practices in Wisconsin before proposing any regulatory changes. We consider further regulations on our well-established practice of aging cheese on wooden boards to be an unnecessary federal overreach.
Please consider the implications of the very real harm posed by the FDA’s recent communications regarding 21 CFR 110.40(a). The prior statements by the FDA have created unnecessary uncertainty for Wisconsin cheesemakers and consumers. We, along with Wisconsin cheese enthusiasts everywhere, sincerely hope the troubling language in the initial FDA communication on this subject is merely a misunderstanding and now laid to rest. As lawmakers, we will scrutinize any new, unnecessary attempts at federal regulation.
Rep. Travis Tranel                                                                   Rep. Lee Nerison
49th Assembly District                                                           96th Assembly District                                                                    
Rep. André Jacque                                                                  Rep. Kathy Bernier
2nd Assembly District                                                              68th Assembly District
Rep. Jeremy Thiesfeldt                                                        Rep. Michael Schraa
52nd Assembly District                                                           53rd Assembly District
Rep. John Spiros                                                                      Rep. Paul Tittl
86th Assembly District                                                            25th Assembly District
Rep. Kulp                                                                                    Rep. Penny Bernard Schaber
69th Assembly District                                                            57th Assembly District
Rep. Mary Czaja                                                                        Rep. Dean Kaufert
35th Assembly District                                                            55th Assembly District
Rep. Dan Knodl                                                                         Rep. Howard Marklein
24th Assembly District                                                            51st Assembly District
Rep. Tod Ohnstad                                                                    Rep. Alvin Ott
65th Assembly District                                                            3rd Assembly District
Rep. Warren Petryk                                                                Rep. Dan Pridemore
93rd Assembly District                                                            22nd Assembly District
Rep. Keith Ripp                                                                        Rep. Joe Sanfelippo
42nd Assembly District                                                           15th Assembly District
Rep. Christine Sinicki                                                            Rep. Pat Strachota
20th Assembly District                                                           58th Assembly District
Rep. Duey Stroebel                                                               Rep. Rob Swearingen
60th Assembly District                                                           34th Assembly District    
Sen. Terry Moulton                                                                Sen. Scott Fitzgerald
23rd Senate District                                                                 13th Senate District
Sen. Rick Gudex                                                                      Sen. Sheila Harsdorf
18th Senate District                                                                10th Senate District
Sen. Frank Lasee                                                                    Sen. Joe Leibham
1st Senate District                                                                  9th Senate District