Canada's new and controversial cheese compositional standards became effective December 14. Intended to provide consumers with uniform compositional and nutritional values and set minimum standards for fresh milk in cheese making, these regulations will restrict U.S. cheese exports to Canada.
Originally introduced in June 2007 and updated in December 2007, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency's (CFIA) new regulations amend both the Canadian Food and Drug Regulations and Dairy Product Regulations. These regulations set the minimum amounts of casein in cheese that must come directly from milk or from ultrafiltered milk, partly skimmed milk, ultrafiltered partly skimmed milk, skim milk, ultrafiltered skim milk or cream, rather than from other milk products.
Broad in scope, the new standards cover all food products containing any percentage of cheese made or sold in Canada, including products covered by the Imports for Re-export program. They limit the use of concentrated, dried and reconstituted forms of milk, in addition to other milk proteins, such as milk protein concentrate and whey protein.
"We're concerned that these new standards will threaten U.S. dairy exports," said Clay Hough, IDFA senior group vice president. "One of our main concerns is that there are no tests to show whether cheese is made from fresh milk or dried forms of milk, or whether proteins have been added during production. It is unclear how Canadian business partners will verify that imported cheese meets the new standards, which could impact purchases of U.S. cheese."
In a published statement, the government acknowledges that while it is not possible to test cheese components for compliance, "it is the responsibility of importers to comply with the requirements of the regulations." Compliance will be verified by CFIA audits of producers' records and practices, and plants will be chosen for audits based on risk and priority assessments by CFIA.
All Canadian cheese importers are now required to obtain a CFIA Cheese Importer license and provide detailed information on the types of cheese they import, along with their package coding systems, recall procedures, water sources, sanitation and pest control programs. The importers must be able to provide an inspector with evidence substantiating that each imported cheese meets the new standards.
In addition, importers will still be required to adhere to the country's existing Good Importing Practices. IDFA believes this double layer of regulation has the potential to discourage dairy imports from the United States and will increase costs for U.S. cheese exporters who will have to maintain the required documentation.
In comments filed last year with the Canadian government, IDFA expressed concern for Canada's commitment to international trade obligations as well as CFIA's limitations on U.S. dairy exports. IDFA's comments echoed the more than one hundred sets of comments opposing the new standards that were sent to the government.
More recently, the three largest dairy processors in Canada — Kraft Foods Company, Parmalat Canada Inc. and Saputo inc. — have asked a Canadian federal court for a stay on the implementation of these new regulations. However, no delay has been announced and the conclusions of this joint filing made in October 2008 could take up to a year to resolve.
IDFA will continue to seek new ways to encourage the reversal of these regulations and will work with stakeholders to minimize the regulations' impact on trade.
For more information, contact Katie Sparrow, IDFA international affairs manager, at email@example.com or 202-220-3507.
A comprehensive list of minimum percentage requirements for each variety is available from the Canadian Library of Parliament.