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No Movement on Codex Food Labeling Proposals

May 26, 2009

IDFA Vice President Cary Frye represented the interests of the global dairy industry earlier this month at the Codex Committee on Food Labeling meeting in Calgary, Canada. Although the committee considered a variety of labeling issues and proposals, including a controversial suggestion to modify standard common names, not one moved forward to the next step. The session drew 201 delegates representing 63 counties and 24 international organizations.

Frye, who reached the term limit as chair of the International Dairy Federation's Standing Committee on Food Labeling, now serves as the committee's vice chair. In Calgary, she led the IDF delegation and guided several new members through the complex Codex process, including lobbying representatives of other government delegations.

"Many of the proposals included recommendations that are less burdensome than the food labeling regulations we currently adhere to in the United States," said Frye. "Overall, we were pleased with the committee's ability to deal fairly with issues that could be a concern for dairy internationally."

One such issue was raised in a discussion paper that recommended amending current Codex standards to permit the use of standard product names in conjunction with a comparative claim or a nutrient content claim on the label of a modified standardized food, such as reduced-fat spreads or sugar-free jams. This action also could have an impact on modified versions of dairy products such as reduced-fat cheddar cheese. The change, according to the paper, would align with the World Health Organization's "Global Strategy on Diet, Physical Activity and Health"(the Global Strategy) which encourages the food industry to introduce innovative, healthy and nutritious foods and to provide clear and consistent labeling to help consumers make informed and healthy choices.

Of the 63 countries represented at the meeting, at least 36 offered comments, with half voicing support for the amendment and half opposing it. Because the topic was so contentious, the committee agreed to keep it on the agenda and continue discussions, but decided not to request starting new work until 2011. The additional time will be used to seek input from other Codex commodity committees, such as the Codex Committee on Milk and Milk Products.

Another discussion surrounded the WHO proposal to develop international guidelines on mandatory nutrition labeling of nutrients. Although similar guidelines have been in effect in the United States since the Nutritional Labeling Educations Act (NLEA) of 1991, the proposed changes would require other countries, some with struggling economies or limited financial means, to beef up their limited nutritional content on labels. Currently only energy, protein, fat and carbohydrates are required to be declared. The committee is considering adding amounts of saturated fat, trans-fatty acids, total sugars and/or added sugars, sodium and dietary fiber on the label.

"Making labels more comprehensive would be a huge cost for many countries, especially developing countries that are struggling just to provide food for their own people," Frye said.

Other topics on the agenda included labeling of foods and ingredients obtained through genetic modification, a review of the definition of dietary fiber, the labeling of food additive class names and proposed new work to establish a process for the periodic review of the Guidelines for the production, processing, labeling and marketing of organically produced foods.

All proposals that were sent back to committee members for further comment, review and work within electronic working groups will be raised again at the 2010 Codex labeling committee meeting next May in Quebec.

Codex decisions on standards can have a significant impact on IDFA members that export dairy products, since many Codex standards are often adopted by importing countries and are used to resolve World Trade Organization disputes.

For more information, contact Frye at or 202-220-3543.



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