It’s easier in America to buy a gun than French cheese

(Original publication date: Jul 23, 2012)

Yes.  But.

The following graphic has been making its way around the Internet this weekend.

I was intrigued, but suspicious. I don’t like to send things around, or post them on the blog, if something doesn’t smell right (no pun intended, as we are talking about wonderfully stinky French cheese). So I did a little digging, and here’s what I found.

The graphic is kinda right.

J’accuse!

It seems that, of all things, an outbreak of Typhoid in Canada in the early 1940s was linked to Cheddar cheese made from raw milk (call her, Typhoid Elsie). Fast forward to 1950, and the FDA decides to do something about the dangers of stinky French cheese, and bans the sale of any imported cheese from raw milk that is not aged for a minimum of 60 days (a ban on domestically-produced cheese was, reportedly, instituted a few years before that).  The thinking was/is that the curing process kills the bacteria (and recent research suggests that even that may not always work).

And so began America’s cheese panic.

So, the cheeses in the graphic are not banned per se.  They’re are banned, however, if they’re made with raw milk that hasn’t been aged a minimum of 60 days – which in France, many of them are.  And if they’re made with pasteurized milk, they’re fine.  Thus, newer French Brie cheese made with pasteurized milk can be sold in the US (even though it’s reportedly less tasty than the “real” French version – and part of the lost flavor of some French cheeses comes from the fact that their peak flavor comes at a time “less” than 60 days).  Sadly, there’s a section of the site I link that appears to note some exceptions to the rule, but the section isn’t written in complete sentences, so it makes no sense.  So I did some more research…

What I found was that there seems to be another restriction, beyond the 60 day rule. This from an article in 2005:

According to John Sheehan of the FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, in the 1980s both countries agreed that all soft cheeses from France would be made from pasteurized milk in plants certified by the French government. This followed the detection of the harmful listeria bacteria in some French Brie.

2005 was around the same time that the FDA cracked down on French cheese entering the US – previously they apparently had overlooked some of the “illegal” cheeses. Now they were cracking down even on some cheese aged over 60 days – possibly for legit reasons, possibly as retaliation for a trade dispute.

And there’s talk of banning raw milk cheese all together:

But in recent months, two recalls involving e. coli in raw-milk cheese have brought that law into question: in November, at Bravo Farms, near Fresno, then in December, at Sally Jackson Cheese, in Washington State.

David Acheson, a former associate commissioner for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, says laboratory tests have suggested that e.coli O157, and possibly other microbes, as well, can survive the 60-day aging process.

“There’s real concern that the 60 days isn’t long enough,” he says.

On average, there are about 40 reported cases a year of people getting sick from raw-milk cheese, nationwide, according to the Centers for Disease Control. During a 15-year period between 1993 and 2008, two people died from those illnesses.

That’s a small fraction of the outbreaks that have been traced back to ground beef, for example, and the number has stayed fairly constant. Still, the FDA says raw-milk cheese is a growing concern.

Two people died over fifteen years from eating raw milk cheese.  Significantly more died over that period from guns, about 450,000 people (that includes suicides, but hey, we don’t let people intentionally kill themselves by eating French cheese, so why allow guns?).

In the end, I couldn’t confirm that any of the cheeses listed in the graphic above are actually “banned” in the US, because there are versions of them – with pasteurized milk or aged over 60 days – that are permitted for several of them (I didn’t check them all).  The graphic indicates, for example, that French roquefort (i.e., blue cheese) is not permitted into the US.  That’s not true.  You can buy the French “President” brand blue cheese in the US – I  have.  The same goes for the graphic’s mention of Camembert.  Obviously, the American versions are either pasteurized or aged over 60-days.

Now, the graphic would be correct if it got a little more specific and, say, added an asterisk noting that the original, “true,” raw-milk-aged-under-60-day versions of these French cheeses are banned in the US.  So try this:

And that’s our food science lesson for the day.  At least this explains why I have such a hard time finding a good tangy French chèvre at the market in the states.


Follow me on Twitter: @aravosis | @americablog | @americabloggay | Facebook | Google+ | LinkedIn. John Aravosis is the editor of AMERICAblog, which he founded in 2004. He has a joint law degree (JD) and masters in Foreign Service from Georgetown (1989); and worked in the US Senate, World Bank, Children's Defense Fund, and as a stringer for the Economist. Frequent TV pundit: O'Reilly Factor, Hardball, World News Tonight, Nightline & Reliable Sources. Bio, .

Share This Post

  • Zoe

    It is healthier to eat french cheeses than hotdogs!

  • Ceiling Cat

    “Assault Rifle”. That is funny. Where can I buy a registered one for less than $10k? If you know anything about the Hughes Amendment.

  • Ceiling Cat

    Ok, I understand now. But goddamn, why havent you realize that list of guns is from Modern Warfare 2? It pretty much explain the intelligence of anti gunner.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100003141126473 Ula Ulka


    Туры в Египет

    отдохни душой и телом

  • http://katalog-firmy.net/ Jacek

    Great, thank you for help. I had a great reading, like always. Good advises. Very helpful informations. I’m glad is all going in the right direction. Thank you.

  • Candice

    Well i’m happy to be french just for eat cheese.

  • Flo

    I’m french and i ate cheese for 25 years. I am always alive ! Caution : pasteurized cheese is more dangereous because listeria is not competitive with the other bacterias. A milk contamination after pasteurization allowed listeria to develop untul -2°C. (Sorry for my english)

  • Moulin Bleu

    I wonder if the author is as ignorant about cheese as he is about guns. Automatic weapons have not been legal in the U.S. since prior to 1968. If ignorance kills, the author is a sharpshooter. I doubt if he knows what sharp cheese is.

  • http://www.facebook.com/ReverendClint Clint Notestine

    shooting it for fun shitard

  • Naja pallida
  • http://www.facebook.com/thisisnotmyspase Monty Stevenson

    oh come on. If imported, customs cant inspect whats inside chocolates without destroying them in the process. seriously.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Morgan-James-Davies/544626559 Morgan James Davies

    “Automatic” firearms are only available to the holder of a Federally-issued permit. You should learn the difference between ‘Automatic’ and ‘semi-automatic’.

  • Naja pallida

    The US government believes that the American people are so stupid that they are likely to choke and die on the toy, while trying to eat the chocolate. Seriously.

  • http://twitter.com/_4dri4n_ Adrian

    You can always spice your Brie with some gunpowder :)

  • http://bit.ly/SYj39M << Work from home, $15/h, link

    The greatest paradox of them all is to speak of civilized warfare.

  • http://www.facebook.com/zukigirl Jonna Zuki Lundin

    Seriously!? Why? Ok, I could never move to US. lol

  • hollywoodstein

    The rich are different from the rest of us. They have more money. And they eat better.

  • hollywoodstein

    The listeria scare was pushed by the American Dairy Lobby to shut down competition with their own waxy tasteless cheeses. A while back the last raw milk real cheddar maker in England switched to pasteurized milk, ostensibly for insurance purposes. Despite what they said the new stuff was not nearly as complex or good as the raw. They sold off the last raw milk cheddars at a premium.
    High end restaraunts and fromageres got around the sixty days edict by simply bribing people to change the dates on the labels, thus getting young raw milk cheeses into the states. I once knew a famous restaurateur who was so enamored by epoisse that he strapped them to his body to smuggle them in. By the time he got to customs his body heat had warmed the cheese so much that he trailed an unusual odor. When confronted by customs he offered that he had a medical condition. They let him past.
    But that was before everything changed.

  • Dave

    Also the double barreled shotgun in the lower right hand corner.(I think that is a shotgun, the quality is so grainy.)

  • worfington

    Which isn’t to say that the general point being made in the picture is inaccurate. It is accurate as a generalization, just inaccurate on several specifics.

  • worfington

    Sigh… You’re partially right, but the list is still bullshit. Here’s why:
    Brebis is not really one cheese. It’s a generic term for sheep milk cheese. Often you will find Brebis du (insert name of town, region, farmers daughter etc.) few of them are exported, though its true that most of them could not be.
    Crottin de Champcol is the pasteurized, US version of the banned cheese, which is called Crottin de Chavignol, a raw milk goat cheese from the the Loire Valley. The name roughly translates as “horse turd”, in reference of the shape and size.
    Raw milk Tomme du Savoie is readily available in the US.
    Valencay is banned, nor is there any pasteurized analog available in the US
    Comte, and indeed all major alpine cheeses such as Tomme d’Abondance, Emmenthaler, Gruyere, Tete de Moine, etc., are all raw milk and all readily available in the US.
    Berthaut Eppoisses, while pasteurized, is both excellent and available.
    Saint Agur is a puzzling addition to the list. As far as I can tell, there is no raw milk version made. I am unable to find any reference to raw milk Saint Agur anywhere. Readily available.
    Brie de Meaux is, sadly, banned.
    All Roquefort is raw milk, and Societe, papillon and Carles brands are all available in the US. (There is a forth brand exported to the US, but the name escapes me at the moment.)
    True Camembert is banned.
    Which brings us to the last cheese, Morbier, which is readily available in all its raw milk glory.
    Caveat: “readily available” means easy to find in a major city, like NYC, San Francisco, Seattle, DC, etc.

  • Naja pallida

    Lucky for you that haggis from Scotland is banned in the US!

  • http://adgitadiaries.com/ karmanot

    Haggis? Yuck, that stuff is awful and I’m half Scots.

  • http://adgitadiaries.com/ karmanot

    What in the hell is an elementary school teacher and mother doing with an assault rifle?

  • http://adgitadiaries.com/ karmanot

    Velveeta in America is considered cheese, but it has multiple uses: door mats, insulation, never molds, etc….

  • Tor

    If you have ever had Gorgonzola in Milan, you know it is nothing like what we have here.

  • http://www.ryanstake.net RyansTake

    Cheese doesn’t kill, bacteria kills!

  • FunMe

    John, recently there was an article about someone for the 2nd Amendment and NO gun controls and he or she ended up dead. I think it was a policeman that came up to the person’s place and there was a misunderstanding. Can you repost or put add a comment here? Thanks.

  • http://www.rebeccamorn.com/mind BeccaM

    More from the news: It’s been reported that the guns in question were owned by one of the lunatic gunman’s intended victims, his mother.
    http://usnews.nbcnews.com/_news/2012/12/14/15913678-gunmans-mother-owned-weapons-used-in-connecticut-school-massacre?lite

    It is true that under CT law, a person under the age of 21 cannot purchase or carry handguns, and this guy was 20. And you do have to have a handgun eligibility certificate (safety course) before you can buy one. But there’s no requirement that the registered legal owner of such weapons has to keep them locked up and inaccessible to minors, underage adults, or mentally ill individuals in the home.

  • LanceThruster

    I am glad to say I have not seen that yet. It’s bad enough when a microphone is thrust in the face of an adult after a given tragedy as they’re asked, “How do you feel?”

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=210400320 Nicholas Reichart

    Most important part, completely ignored by the article: automatic weapons are not legal, nor are all of those weapons automatic weapons (the revolver for instance)

  • Naja pallida
  • LanceThruster

    So only outlaws will have cheese, eh?

  • Naja pallida
  • http://adgitadiaries.com/ karmanot

    Angry, heartbroken and nearly speechless with grief. God damn America and its death fetish. Interviewing traumatized children has lowered the bar considerably for vulture media.

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