Processed Cheese Standards Stall, Other Issues Advance, at Codex Dairy Meeting
Current international standards for processed cheeses, their spreads and preparations will remain intact, at least for the next two years, after efforts to update the standards stalled during a recent meeting of the Codex Committee on Milk and Milk Products (CCMMP) in Auckland, New Zealand. Allen Sayler, IDFA vice president of regulatory affairs and international standards and a member of the U.S. delegation, participated in the proceedings held February 4-8, along with member representatives from Kraft Foods and Schreiber Foods, Inc.
Although the committee has attempted to revise the standards for the past 10 years, it redoubled efforts in 2005 with the hope of bridging the wide divide between several countries, most notably France and the United States. Cheese and dairy content in U.S. processed cheese is much higher than it is in many other countries, and IDFA opposes changing the international standards to lower the content.
Noting a clear lack of consensus, the committee chair asked a working group to develop a discussion paper that would provide a skeletal framework for moving forward. The paper proposed taking a survey of government regulations and the world dairy industry on processed cheeses, and clearly defining "processed cheese preparation" as necessary steps to begin another effort to update the standards.
The working group will meet in 2009 and early the following year to develop and finalize a new draft processed cheese standard for presentation at the next CCMMP meeting in 2010.
"The decision to continue work to update the current Codex processed cheese standards appears to be a tremendous waste of valuable time and limited Codex resources," said Sayler, explaining the U.S. position. "The wide difference of opinions on the language of an updated standard and on the discussion document itself indicates agreement in 2010 is unlikely."
In the interim, participating countries will continue to use the existing processed cheese standards.
The committee also addressed a number of issues regarding food additives, such as allowable levels of annatto, an ingredient commonly used to give many cheeses their yellow or orange color. Although the U.S. delegation wanted levels that would match domestic standards (50 mg/kg for cheddar and 30 mg/kg for other cheeses), the committee adopted a lower maximum level of 25 mg/kg. This change is expected to become effective in July, but it will be circulated for comment and may be open for revision at the 2010 meeting.
A proposal to add a few new food additives to the Codex standard for creams and prepared creams was accepted without change. Another proposal to complete the food additive sections for the Codex standard on fermented milks (yogurt) was endorsed for advancement and final adoption. The proposal is consistent with food additives allowed in these products under U.S. regulations.
In addition, the committee made a number of final modifications in the model dairy export certificate and explanatory document, and advanced both for adoption in July 2008. Once adopted, the dairy export certificate will help countries to simplify the paperwork required for importing dairy products.
The Codex Alimentarius Commission is jointly set up by two United Nations organizations, the Food and Agriculture Organization and the World Health Organization, to develop food standards that can voluntarily be adopted by any country. Codex decisions can have a significant impact on IDFA members that export dairy products since many Codex standards have been adopted by importing countries. Codex standards can also be used to resolve World Trade Organization disputes.
"The Codex standards adoption process works on consensus, so getting agreement among 170 nations can be lengthy," Sayler said. "But it's important to remain engaged because these decisions can have an enormous effect on global dairy trade."
Members with questions about the proposed standards or meeting actions may contact Sayler at email@example.com, or 202-220-3544.
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Posted February 19, 2008