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Codex Commission to Discontinue Work on Processed Cheese Standard

Jul 11, 2012

The Codex Alimentarius Commission, a United Nations-supported organization focusing on global food standards, convened in Rome last week to deliberate on recommendations from its committees and task forces. Of special interest to IDFA members, the commission decided to discontinue work on a processed cheese standard. In addition, the commission declined to vote on maximum residue limits (MRLs) for recombinant bovine somatotropin, or rbST, an issue that has been held at Step 8, the final step before adoption, since 1999.

The 35th Session of the commission drew 623 delegates from 147 countries to the Food and Agriculture Organization's headquarters in Rome, July 2-7. Clay Hough, IDFA senior group vice president, attended the meeting as a member of the United States delegation and worked directly with the U.S. negotiators and Codex Secretariat to gain this favorable decision to discontinue work on processed cheese standards.

Years in the Making

Two years ago, the commission agreed to eliminate the decades-old processed cheese standards, a move IDFA and members supported. But the commission also approved a recommendation to continue work on a new standard to replace the old ones. IDFA strongly endorsed stopping all work on developing a new Codex processed cheese standard, which would have allowed lower-quality imitation cheese to be covered by the same international standard as high-quality American processed cheese.

In Rome last week, delegations from the United States, Argentina, Australia, Costa Rica, Japan and New Zealand offered statements, along with the International Dairy Federation, to support the discontinuation of work on a new standard. Other countries disagreed, however, so the commission issued a compromise. All work on a processed cheese standard would be discontinued, but objecting countries would be allowed to express their concerns about potential gaps in food safety and quality in circular letters issued by the Codex Secretariat and at various Coordinating Committee meetings. The results of this activity will be presented at the next session of the commission in 2013, which will decide whether new work is necessary at that time.

"With this compromise, we gained 90 percent of what we wanted for our members," said Hough. "History has shown that there's just too much variety for standardization, and the Codex Executive Committee made its own recommendation for discontinuation a week earlier, so we expect it will be very difficult to bring back work on a new standard."

No Vote on rbST

On rbST, the commission declined to vote on maximum residue limits and referred the topic to the Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives, or JECFA, an international expert scientific committee administered jointly by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and the World Health Organization. JEFCA will review new scientific information and return the issue to the Codex Committee on Residues of Veterinary Drugs in Food for more discussion.

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

For more information, contact Hough at

To view a gallery of photos of last week's session, visit the Codex website

Dairy Delivers