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Third complaint filed on mislabeled dairy products

Nov. 22, 2012 | 0 comments

For the third time in two years, the editor of a Wisconsin dairy publication has filed a formal complaint with the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP) over mislabeled dairy products.

Pete Hardin, editor and publisher of The Milkweed, a monthly report on the dairy industry, this time also went to the policy board that governs DATCP. He talked to board members about his complaint Nov. 14 at their meeting in Madison.

His comments came during the portion of the board meeting set aside to hear from members of the public on issues related to department regulations.

The ongoing complaints, filed with the Division of Food Safety, arise from the distribution and sale of processed cheese products as "natural" cheese for which a "standard of identity" has been created by the federal Food and Drug Administration.

Hardin told board members that he believes Weyauwega Cheese of Sun Prairie, WI, has violated state and federal law by offering for sale such things as a "Gouda" cheese that has ingredients in it that are unapproved for that kind of cheese.

"Gouda cheese cannot contain various unapproved ingredients such as water, casein, corn starch, etc.," Hardin told the board. "Yet, after two prior complaints to DATCP and a strong warning letter written in December 2010 by your department to the offending firms, here these cheesy scofflaws go again."

In late October and early November, Hardin said he purchased two "Smoked Gouda" products at a local supermarket and they are the same "clearly illegal products" that drew similar complaints in November 2010 and earlier this year.

Hardin said JS Brands and Weyauwega Cheese have "somewhat cleaned up their act" - prior violations included putting the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board's (WMMB) "Wisconsin Cheese" logo on German Swiss, Danish Blue and English Stilton cheeses among others.

That logo is intended to denote Wisconsin products, not those imported from foreign countries, he said.

Hardin told Wisconsin State Farmer that WMMB "came down pretty hard on them for misusing that label" and then they disappeared from all their products for a while.

"These latest offenses constitute 'strike three' in my opinion and it's time that the umpire - DATCP - invoke the full force of the law against these repeated violators of cheese labeling regulations.

"Vigorous enforcement of the law, with appropriate financial penalties and license review, is needed to correct these illegalities.

"Mere warning letters have not corrected the problem," he said.

According to a warning letter from DATCP two years ago, the Code of Federal Regulations, Chapter 21, sets up standards of identity for certain cheeses like Gouda. If a product is sold under that name, with ingredients that are not included in the standard, that cheese is considered to be "adulterated."

Mislabeling of "standard of identity" cheeses is strictly prohibited in the federal code and in DATCP's administrative rules 80 and 90.

"You shall not call the product you are selling 'Smoked Gouda'," the letter stated.

"There's no state that enjoys a greater image for a given product than Wisconsin does with cheese," Hardin said. "That image of cheese quality must be safeguarded and enforced.

"We can't take this for granted. We must have truth in labeling and enforcement."

He urged board members to monitor the investigation of this latest complaint - which he said he had filed officially 10 days before the meeting - and assure that proper penalties are enforced.

"I think it's time to go beyond warning letters," he said, noting that the December 2010 DATCP warning letter had cautioned the offenders that "failure to correct these issues will result in compliance action against your Dairy Plant license by our department."

When it has been three complaints over two years, Hardin said he believes it's time the department move beyond warning letters because they don't appear to be working.

A few moments later when Steve Ingham, administrator of DATCP's Food Safety Division, spoke to the board on another matter, he told members that Hardin's complaint hadn't hit his desk yet, but that he would take it seriously.

"Anyone who knows me knows my mantra is 'safe food, honestly sold'," he told the board.

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