It’s a wrap for milk and cheese

Posted by Josette Dunn on 15th February 2010

International milk and milk products standard setting body met in New Zealand last week and successfully wrapped up 16 years of work, developing international standards to keep milk products flowing, a subject close to New Zealand’s heart as exporter of a third of the world’s dairy trade.

Milk splash

More than 130 delegates from 34 member countries and 5 observer organisations convened last week in Auckland for the ninth session of the Codex Committee on Milk and Milk Products (CCMMP), which sets globally-accepted food standards for international trade in these products.

Science director of the New Zealand Food Safety Authority, Dr Steve Hathaway, who has chaired the committee’s meetings for the past 10 years, is delighted it has completed its ambitious work programme.

“Having robust and scientifically-justified standards for a wide range of dairy commodities helps smooth the way for their trade, which is a great advantage for modern and efficient dairying nations like New Zealand, which provides a third of world dairy exports.”
Since the committee was established in 1993, the Codex Committee on Milk and Milk Products has created or updated more than 40 international standards covering various cheeses, milk powders, creams, fermented milks, casein and other products containing dairy and non dairy ingredients. The last six CCMMP meetings have been held in New Zealand.

Fonterra’s regulatory and food assurance manager Roger Hall is a member of the New Zealand delegation to CCMMP. He says having internationally-agreed dairy standards is invaluable in helping the company trade with more than 140 markets globally, and they help maintain the value for dairy commodities.

“New Zealand is recognised around the world for the safety and quality of our dairy products,” Mr Hall says.

“The work of CCMMP on developing global standards has provided a greater level of customer and consumer assurance around the integrity, safety and quality of our dairy products in international trade. It is also very important to the value of Fonterra’s export sales that global standards are set to ensure that dairy commodities made to an appropriate standard are not undercut by lower quality products.”

At last week’s meeting the committee adopted a new draft standard for drinks based on fermented milk, which are growing in popularity particularly in Asia. It will ensure such drinks contain at least 40% fermented milk, a contentious limit for some delegations to CCMMP,  and that the label clearly reflect the milk content.

“This allows all products, whether they contain the minimum or higher amounts of fermented milk to be traded freely and leaves it to the consumer to decide which they prefer,” Dr Hathaway says.
“Using scientific data, New Zealand was instrumental in convincing the committee to expand the list of ingredients used to make fermented milk products to include dried milk powder, even though fermented milk products are traditionally made from fresh milk.

“Milk powder is one of our dairy industry’s biggest export earners and the inclusion of dried milk powder has significantly enhanced our ability to maintain market access for this product, for example, countries like Taiwan.”

The committee agreed to discontinue work to develop a new standard for processed cheese products as there was lack of agreement on key issues such as their composition.

“This means the trade of processed cheese will continue to be driven by the requirements and specifications operating in different markets under bilateral agreement with each trading partner setting the criteria for what they want a processed cheese to look like.”

This is only the second time in the committee’s 16 years that delegates could not agree to progress an issue and Dr Hathaway emphasises that in both cases it was not about food safety.

“It’s about trading partners wanting to advance their national interests and positions. They couldn’t decide on a definition and they will now continue to use their own one. Fortunately, international trade is not currently hampered by the lack of an international standard for this product.”

The committee did recommend revoking the existing processed cheese standards, which were prescriptive and didn’t allow for the use of new technology or modern ingredients. “Removing the old standards opens the way for product innovation, which New Zealanders are very good at,” Dr Hathaway says.

As the CCMPP’s work programme has been completed the committee has been adjourned. There is opportunity to reactivate the committee if and when it becomes necessary to develop new standards or revise existing ones.