Cheese makers face raft of legal changes

By Charlotte Eyre

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Food safety Milk

Proposed changes to international food safety standards could
affect the way cheese makers sell their products

Decisions by the Codex Alimentarius Commission last week will affect food safety requirements worldwide once participating governments adopt the 16 cheese standards passed by the body at its annual meeting in Rome.

Codex food safety standards are developed using scientific advice from the UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation and the World Health Organization.

The standards are recognised as international benchmarks by one of the multilateral agreements of the UN World Trade Organisation (WTO) and aim to eliminate many of what the UN calls "unjustified technical barriers" to food imports set up by some countries.

The new standards will replace the existing cheese standards, which date back to the 1960s.

The commission also adopted a revised standard for infant formula, which resolved in dairy's favour a dispute over the nitrogen conversion factor for milk protein and soy protein.

The new standards also propose that any cheeses sold across borders will have to feature the country-of-origin on the label.

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

The country-of-origin provision 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."

Some industry players are happy with the outcome, saying that the new standards, once in place will help international trade.

"We're thrilled that the new cheese standards have finally been adopted after 13 years," said Clay Hough, senior vice president of the International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA).

"These new standards provide needed flexibility to our members and will facilitate additional world trade in cheese."

The dispute over the nitrogen conversion factor for milk protein and soy protein also was resolved, with the Commission adopting a revised infant formula standard.

"The new standard restores the appropriate conversion factor for the protein level of various ingredients used in ready-to-consume infant formulas, pegging the dairy protein conversion factor at 6.38 and the soy protein conversion factor at 5.71," Hough said.

IDFA supported the new factor changes, because the values previously proposed by Codex last year would have incorrectly lowered the amount of protein in infant formula products using milk proteins, making them appear to be equivalent with the levels of protein in infant formula using soy protein.

IDFA said it and other industry organisations had lobbied Codex to show that the proposal was not supported by science and not consistent with other international standards, which use a factor of 6.38 for milk protein.

Meanwhile in the US the IDFA is calling on the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) into taking action over dairy issues, after encouraging the regulator to give priority to food safety and labeling.

After discussions with the IDFA, the FDA's Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition (CFSAN) last month released its fiscal year 2007 report to stakeholders, in which it highlighted its future strategies in regards to pathogens in dairy products.

In the report the FDA pledged to establish a regulatory action limit for the presence of listeria in certain foods, a result which "pleased" the IDFA, said Cary Frye, the association's vice president.

The IDFA has also called on the FDA to allow fluid ultra fluid (UF) or milk protein concentrates, to be used in cheese, but it was disappointed when the FDA did not mention it in the report.

"We'll continue to urge FDA to reconsider taking action to finalize regulations permitting the use of liquid UF milk in all types of standardized cheeses without requiring special ingredient labeling," Frye said.

The IDFA has also urged the FDA to tighten the rules on how yoghurt is classified, calling the current system "outdated".

The FDA should also help manufacturers technically with implementing the labelling system, it added.

The IDFA has a membership of 530 companies representing a $90-billion a year industry, according to the association's website.

It is not afraid to make its weight felt, and in February it ripped into the Bush administration's "ineffective" spending plans for the sector, warning the proposals would not help domestic farmers or improve prospects of a world trade deal.

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