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Dairy-State Lawmaker Seeks Probe of Foreign Cheese Inspection

September 6, 1991

WASHINGTON (AP) _ A dairy-state congressman concerned about foreign competition with U.S. cheese makers wants an investigation of the Food and Drug Administration’s imported cheese inspection policies.

Rep. Toby Roth, R-Wis., contended Thursday that ″substantial quantities of unsafe and potentially harmful foreign-made cheese are flowing into U.S. supermarkets″ and asked the General Accounting Office to find out why.

He also said the import business was hurting U.S. dairy farmers.

″With our markets glutted with American-made dairy products, foreign processors should not be allowed to ship in food, such as cheese, and thereby undercut our own dairy farmers,″ Roth said.

The Cheese Importers Association of America immediately disputed Roth’s contentions. The trade group said Roth’s charges were based on faulty reading of FDA data.

The agency said it would respond to Roth’s concerns and cooperate with any GAO investigation. It also noted that since an outbreak of listeria in a Mexican soft cheese in the mid-1980s in California, the FDA has had a surveillance program for imported soft cheese.

Roth, whose home state is the nation’s largest cheese producer, said 13 million pounds of imported cheese were detained by the FDA during a 10-month period ending July 31.

″Millions of pounds of imported cheeses contain pathogens, salmonella and other poisonous substances,″ he said.

Actually, about 9.8 million pounds of cheese were detained, said Richard Koby, attorney for the importers association. But only 250,000 pounds were held because of quality problems during the period Roth cited, Koby said, adding: ″Much of this cheese was later found to be satisfactory.″

Koby said about 300 million pounds of cheese was imported in 1990, about 5 percent of the total cheese consumed in the United States. Imports are mostly from Europe and tend to be made from goat’s milk or sheep’s milk because strict quotas exist on imported cow’s milk cheese.

Roth is supported in his call for an investigation by the Associated Milk Producers Inc., in San Antonio, Texas, and the Farmers’ Union Milk Marketing Cooperative in Madison, Wis.

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