Trade seems to be the topic on everyone’s mind lately. But to ensure U.S. dairy products reach dining tables around the globe, you’ve got to have a seat at the Codex table.

The U.S. dairy industry annually exports more than $5 billion in product – from cheese to whey to ice cream to skim milk powder and everything in between. The ease of trade we see in foreign markets can, in part, be attributed to the fact that many nations around the world have adopted or based national regulations on food standards developed by the United Nations’ Codex Alimentarius Commission (CAC).

The Codex Commission met this week in Geneva, Switzerland, and IDFA pulled up a chair to the Codex table and was instrumental in ensuring that science-based principles remain intact and that proposed additives for use in fortified milks, which impact nutritional value, were successfully accepted by the Commission. This is an important victory for dairy due to our direct engagement.

John Allan, IDFA’s vice president of regulatory affairs and international standards, led the delegation for the International Dairy Federation (IDF). IDFA actively participates in the United States’ national committee to the IDF, making sure the U.S. dairy industry has a voice in the international forum.

The Commission brings together scientists, technical experts, and government regulators, as well as international consumer and industry organizations, to develop international food standards aimed at protecting the health of consumers and ensuring fair practices in food trade. There were three key topics of relevance for the dairy industry on this week’s agenda.

Codex Science-Based Principles Remain Intact…For Now

Due to the proactive outreach by IDFA and others across the food and agriculture industry over the past few weeks, Codex agreed to not revise certain governing principles that would add greater consideration of non-scientific factors in establishing certain Codex standards. IDFA has consistently held that these other factors, such as environmental impacts, animal welfare, or misplaced consumer fears, are beyond the scope of the Codex mandate of protecting consumer health and promoting fair practices in food trade. The European Union and several other countries have supported their consideration.  

Allan advocated that all Codex standards should be based on robust scientific evidence and risk assessment and informed by advice provided by Codex scientific expert bodies. The European Union indicated its intent to eventually revise these critical Codex principles, if not now, at some point in the future. This move would threaten the integrity and acceptability of Codex standards and ultimately hinder the international trade of U.S. dairy products. 

Food Additive Use in Dairy Products

The use of additives in fluid milk products was the subject of contentious debate. The IDF, led by Allan, fought for and helped ensure that a proposal for the allowance of certain stabilizers in plain (unflavored), fortified milks was adopted by the Commission. The additives that were adopted by the Commission are used to keep added vitamins and minerals from settling out of the milk, maintaining product quality and nutritional value during the shelf-life.

Additionally, a separate proposal on the table would allow trisodium citrate to be used, when needed, in shelf-stable, plain, non-fortified fluid milk that has been ultra-high temperature pasteurized to ensure stability during storage under certain conditions. Many African countries raised concerns about the use of this additive—and additives generally—in such milks. Due to these concerns and a lack of consensus, the Commission decided not to adopt the proposal and will have further discussions in the next year.

Follow-up Formula Standard

Commission delegates accepted product labeling provisions in the draft revised Codex Standard for Follow-up Formula for older infants (6-12 months of age). Delegates, however, supported the decision by the Codex Committee on Food Labeling to not endorse proposed language prohibiting “cross promotion,” a term not defined in Codex.

IDFA has actively advocated against incorporation of this term in the standard as it could lead to regulatory inconsistencies and overreach in many countries. It could also create unnecessary trade barriers for these products, many of which use dairy-derived ingredients as major constituents. As a result of the Commission’s action, the Codex Committee on Nutrition and Foods for Special Dietary Uses, which is responsible for developing this standard, will revisit the inclusion of this text at its next meeting in November of this year.

These standards might seem minor when looked at individually, but they can impact the way dairy products are sold around the world. IDFA has a seat at the table to help limit unfair barriers and ensures the safety and quality of dairy products produced in the U.S. and around the world.