EDITORIAL: Free the cheese mites

The FDA’s misbegotten war on microscopic bugs

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The Food and Drug Administration is getting sharp about a certain cheese. The agency is upset that fearless cheeseheads are nibbling a fancy French import known as Mimolette. The food nannies are determined to stop them.

Mimolette is a bright orange cheese first made when Louis XIV insisted that France needed a domestic cheese (and long before Charles de Gaulle famously asked “how can you govern a country which has 246 varieties of cheese?”). Mimolette has a crust with holes, made as microscopic mites burrow through, allowing the cheese within to breathe. The tiny creatures give the cheese a distinct sharp flavor. Most of them are swept off the rind before sale, but a few linger unseen. This cheese may not be to everyone’s taste, but for cheese lovers, Mimolette is a treasured delicacy, imported into the United States for decades. No one has died, got sick or even fainted. (Besides, the French eat snails and slugs, yet survive.)

But, as every bureaucrat knows, if there is no problem, you have to invent one. The number of microscopic cheese mites remaining on the crust of a Mimolette is a peril, like global warming or the chance that an asteroid the size of Camembert will hit Kansas City next Sunday. The actual facts, however, suggest their argument is full of holes.

The imaginary scare the agency came up with is the possibility of an allergic reaction to a family of mites homesteading on the cheese. A common-sense cure for mite terror is actually already available: Don’t eat Mimolette cheese. Since cheese-eaters are not capable of resisting the cheese plate, the FDA wants to spoil the appetite of everyone. Imports of Mimolette have been held since March in American customs warehouses because an FDA guideline insists there can be no more than six mites sharing the same square inch of cheese. When a seventh mite moves in, there goes the neighborhood. Tons of cheese are rotting.

Mimolette is actually not the only cheese entertaining little bugs. Dozens of other varieties, including several produced in the United States, rely on cheese mites in the manufacturing process. Even some cheddars have mites.

The FDA appears to have started a war on French cheese without an exit strategy. Who knows where cheese creep could take us? But the agency risks biting off more than it can swallow. Cheese is one of the staples of the American diet; we eat 33 pounds of cheese per person every year, on average. The International Dairy Foods Association says it’s an $11 billion a year business.

Nannies, whether mayors or governors or FDA commissioners, don’t actually care what people eat, or listen to, or watch, or whether life’s little problems are real or imaginary. They just groove on bossing people around. The nannies at the FDA should cut a slice of Mimolette, brush off the bugs, pour a glass of Kendall-Jackson pinot noir 2009, break out a package of crackers and leave the rest of us alone. And let the rest of the Mimolette, mites and all, out of jail.

The Washington Times

© Copyright 2014 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

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