Food safety has been a hot topic in the US with recently warnings being issues on everything from ice cream to flour to national burrito chains. Most of us typically take these alerts at face value: If something can make us sick, we should probably avoid it. But according to Munchies, some Belgians have actually been fighting back against their country’s Federal Agency for the Safety of the Food Chain, or AFSCA – a Belgian government agency somewhat similar to the USDA – for essentially trying to do its job because they believe its strict rules are destroying their country’s food heritage.
A major flashpoint came last year when the agency ordered the shutdown of one of the last two producers of Belgium’s only protected designation of origin cheese, Herve. Granted the AFSCA wasn’t entirely in the wrong. Its inspection of the producer turned up traces of the listeria bacteria (something we’ve heard plenty about here in the United States), but these findings didn’t deter hardcore Belgian cheeseheads. “There was listeria, but it was much less dangerous because it was accompanied by other bacteria – unlike a cheese you pasteurize that could really be dangerous,” Patrick Bottcher of the international group Slow Food was quoted as saying.
More recently, another traditional Belgian food, the rice tarts of Verviers, have been under the AFSCA’s watchful eye since they are made with raw milk and preserved at room temperature – a modern sanitary no-no. Though the AFSCA said they were simply studying the tarts, not trying to ban them, already upset Belgian food heritage fanatics took the move as an affront. “There is no knowledge of any toxicity tied to this mode of preservation, and as far as I know, given how many people eat it,” Bottcher said. “If it was dangerous, we would know by now.”
Though the debate rages on in Belgium, these issues brings into question whether modern safety standards and traditional production methods will ever be able to completely align. Or if a cheese can be so good that you don’t mind if it makes you deathly ill.