Utah's dairy industry supports a bill by Rep. Jim Hansen, R-Utah, restricting European cheese imports, but some local deli owners say consumers deserve a choice.
Hansen wants imported dairy products to meet the same strict manufacturing standards as American products.Some European cheeses are manufactured without pasteurized milk or with milk that contains much higher levels of bacteria than American standards allow, said Rod Brown, head of the Utah State University department of nutrition and food sciences.
There are many ways imported cheeses could be less safe than American cheeses, he said. The milk may contain residual antibiotics and deadly bacteria.
Some delicatessen owners, however, say European cheeses have not posed any more health problems than American brands, and they are generally better tasting.
It is also doubtful if American cheese manufacturers could duplicate the quality of European cheeses, said Dale Street, partner of Cheese and Specialty Foods.
"We've tried some domestic cheeses, but they didn't measure up," he said. "Europeans may not use the safest manufacturing process, but people want the real stuff."
Customers at Mediterranean Market and Deli are accustomed to imported cheeses, and they think the extra cost is worth it, said store owner Annette Mckenna.
About 50 percent of the market's cheese sales comes from imports, with a big share coming from immigrants, she said.
"Ethnic people want what they want," she said. "They should be able to choose."
Mckenna and Street said efforts to sanitize European dairies could possibly skew time-honored methods for making the world's most delicious and creamy cheeses.
But Brown said new markets may be opened to American manufacturers, and the dairy industry supports the bill because of the trade spinoff.
Hansen said his bill would not eliminate foreign imports, but would create a "level playing field" for U.S. dairy producers.