The Hole Story: USDA Regulates Size of Holes in Swiss Cheese

Air Date: 08/08/2000
Source:
NBC Nightly News
Creator:
John Seigenthaler, Bob Faw
Air/Publish Date:
08/08/2000
Event Date:
08/08/2000
Resource Type:
News Report
Copyright:
NBCUniversal Media, LLC.
Copyright Date:
08/08/2000
Clip Length:
00:02:36

In 2000, the USDA begins regulating the size of holes in Swiss cheese -- adjusting standards from 11/16ths of an inch to 3/8 of an inch. Taxpayer groups charge a misuse of federal regulatory power.

The Hole Story: USDA Regulates Size of Holes in Swiss Cheese

JOHN SEIGENTHALER, anchor:

In the middle of political nominating convention season, on the verge of a general election campaign that will see serious debates over the proper role of the government in American life, it turns out tonight that federal regulators are poking around in an area that may leave you thinking they have holes in their heads. In collaboration with the Washington Post, here's NBC's Bob Faw.

BOB FAW reporting:

Imagine Uncle Sam, spending billions to defend us, making sure the air we breathe and the water we drink are safe, is also busily engaged in regulating--are you ready for this--the size of the holes in Swiss cheese.

Ms. RUTH REICHL (Gourmet Magazine): When you take something that's a natural, many hundred-year-old product and start talking about how we would like it to be remade for our convenience, it's pretty sad.

FAW: "Pretty sad," she says, that the United States Department of Agriculture has now proposed, in 15 dense pages of regulation, that the holes in Swiss cheese -- the industry calls them "eyes" -- be made smaller, from the size of a nickel now--11/16 of an inch--to about the size of a dime--3/8 of an inch.

Mr. JOHN UMHOEFER (Wisconsin Cheesemakers Association): We've decided, as an industry, that we need a little more flexibility.

FAW: For cheesemakers, it is really a matter of economics. If the holes are bigger there is more trim, more waste and less profit. After all, when's the last time you've seen cheeseheads manning barricades demanding smaller holes in their Swiss?

Unidentified Woman: It could be a pinhole, I don't care. As long as the taste is there.

FAW: There is, however, some dismay that your government is cracking down on those holes in your Swiss cheese.

Mr. JOHN FRYDENLUND (Citizens Against Government Waste): They really are doing something that is completely pointless, irrelevant and, and unnecessary.

FAW: His taxpayer watchdog group asks, `Doesn't Uncle Sam have better things to do?'

Mr. FRYDENLUND: We don't have the government coming in and saying, `This is a mellow, rich wine, this is a--and this is a bitter wine.' I mean, so why should they be doing it in cheese?

FAW: The USDA, which spends $40 million a year setting prices for milk and standards for cheese says taxpayers don't foot the bill for those regulatory changes--that the industry does. And that when it comes to the size of holes, the USDA is only doing what cheesemakers want. That, say critics, is part of the problem.

Ms. REICHL: I mean, that's--it's emblematic of how we think about food.
It's not about flavor, it's not about its deliciousness. It's about, you know, `Oh my, God! The holes may be too big!'

FAW: So brace yourselves, cheeseheads. If they can get away with this, some day they just might decide the moon isn't made out of cheese, either. Bob Faw, NBC News, Washington.

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