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Codex Considers Cheese Standards, Adopts Trans Fatty Acids Definition

Jul 17, 2006

Codex Considers Cheese Standards, Adopts Trans Fatty Acids Definition

After 10 years of development and discussion, the Codex Alimentarius Commission (CAC) retained nearly all sections of 16 draft cheese standards at Step 8, the final step before adoption, at its annual meeting in Geneva earlier this month. The commission also adopted an important footnote in the definition of trans fatty acids, allowing for future labeling updates based on new scientific research.

The meeting, held July 3-7, drew 376 delegates from 110 Codex member countries and 59 international governmental and non-governmental organizations. IDFA Senior Vice President and General Counsel Clay Hough attended the meeting as a member of the U.S. government delegation.

"We need to be involved in Codex not only to seek positive changes, but also to defend against actions that undercut dairy's rightful place as a wholesome food for the world," Hough said.

The commission considered three issues of particular interest to IDFA: the new cheese standards, the trans fatty acids labeling, and the nitrogen conversion factor for milk protein and soy protein. The draft cheese standards, which had been discussed in several Codex committees earlier this spring, were covered in previous issues of News Update. (Milestone Codex Meeting Produces U.S.-Supported Cheese Standards, Codex Food Labeling Makes Measured Progress , and Codex Committee Moves to Simplify Food Additives System.)

At the meeting in Geneva, three distinct positions on the cheese standards quickly emerged. The first position, held by the United States, Canada, New Zealand, Australia and several other countries, proposed moving the standards to final adoption without the country-of-origin labeling provision (Section 7.2). The group asked for this section, which is designed to inform consumers where the cheese is manufactured, to be referred back to the Codex Committee on Food Labeling (CCFL) for further consideration.

Section 7.2 states: "The country of origin (which means the country of manufacture, not the country in which the name originated) shall be declared. When the product undergoes substantial transformation in a second country, the country in which the transformation is performed shall be considered the country of origin for the purpose of labelling."

The CCFL approved the draft standards in its meeting earlier this year, but forwarded the country-of-origin section to CAC without recommendation.

The second position, offered by member countries of the European Union and other countries, supported moving the 16 standards, including the country-of-origin section, through to final adoption. This group strenuously opposed allowing any movement for the standards unless the country-of-origin section was included.

Switzerland offered a third option, saying the entire set of standards should be returned for further consideration to the Codex Committee on Milk and Milk Products (CCMMP), which will not meet again until 2008.

After an extended debate produced no consensus, the CAC chairman proposed to move the 16 standards, minus the country-of-origin section, to Step 8, which is the final stage before adoption. The contested section would be referred back to the CCFL for consideration at its meeting next April, and the commission would reconsider final adoption of the standards and the section at its meeting next summer in Rome. The CAC agreed with this proposal.

"We are gratified that the CAC decided to retain the standards, except for the country-of-origin labeling section, at Step 8. This action has preserved all of the compromises and work done on the other elements of these standards," Hough said.

"A huge amount of work has already gone into updating elements of these standards, including description, essential composition and quality factors; permitted nutrients and additives; and methods of sampling and analysis. This all would have been reopened if the standards had been sent back to the CCMMP," he added. "We now have a year to get the country-of-origin labeling provision settled, and IDFA will do its utmost to accomplish that goal."

These standards will apply to brie, camembert, cheddar, cottage cheese, coulommiers, cream cheese, danbo, edam, emmental, gouda, havarti, mozzarella, provolone, samso, St. Paulin and tilsiter.

A new definition for trans fatty acids was also of interest to IDFA. At the CCFL meeting earlier this year, the International Dairy Federation delegation led by Cary Frye, IDFA vice president for regulatory affairs, inserted a recommended footnote in the definition that would allow reconsideration of trans fatty acids labeling information as new scientific data becomes available. The definition and footnote were adopted by the commission in Geneva.

The third issue of interest involved a dispute over the nitrogen conversion factor for milk protein and soy protein. At a previous meeting of the Codex Committee on Nutrition and Foods for Special Dietary Uses (CCNFSDU), the members decided to move the soy protein conversion factor up from 5.71 to 6.25, and the dairy protein conversion factor down from 6.38 to 6.25 in infant formulas.

IDFA is opposed to this factor change since it would incorrectly lower the amount of protein in infant formula products using dairy protein, making them appear to be equivalent with the levels of protein in infant formula using soy protein. IDFA and IDF have worked consistently to show that the committee's decision is not supported by science and is not consistent with other Codex standards, which use a factor of 6.38 for dairy protein.

In Geneva, the commission referred the issue back to committee with a request for CCNFSDU to: 1) reconsider the nitrogen conversion factor for milk protein, 2) base its decision on scientific analysis and evidence, 3) perform a thorough review of all relevant information, and 4) review the recommendations for consistency with other CAC standards.

IDFA will continue to work toward restoring the appropriate conversion factor for dairy protein in infant formulas.

The CAC works under two United Nations organizations, the Food and Agriculture Organization and the World Health Organization, to develop food standards that can be adopted as law by any country. Codex also works on food labeling standards, food additive standards and food hygiene recommendations. Codex decisions can have a significant impact on IDFA members that export dairy products since many Codex standards are enforced by importing countries and can be used to resolve World Trade Organization disputes.



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Posted July 17, 2006


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