U.S. food manufacturers are discovering that the path to growth often leads them into the global arena. As these companies strive to compete in the complex global marketplace, they find it critical to monitor proposed changes in international food laws and standards. Anticipating changing food standards can help companies bring new products into the global marketplace more efficiently by avoiding costly reformulations.

The Codex Alimentarius Commission was established in 1963 to reduce trade barriers and facilitate trade in safe foods of a defined quality. The words Codex Alimentarius are Latin for “food code.” The World Trade Organization utilizes the Codex standards with the goal to formulate and harmonize international food standards and ensure their global compliance. The Commission currently has committees evaluating various food categories, including fresh fruits and vegetables, nutrition and foods for special dietary uses, and milk and milk products.

The Codex Committee on Milk and Milk Products, so renamed in 1993, was first established by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization and the World Health Organization in 1958 and integrated into the commission as a subsidiary body in 1962. This committee has been meeting since 1958 to develop and revise Codex dairy standards, says Diane Lewis, senior vice president of market access and regulatory affairs for the U.S. Dairy Export Council and former U.S. delegate to the CCMMP. Currently there are standards for milk powders and cream powders; whey powders; unripened cheese including fresh cheese; and fermented milk.

“The CCMMP will be determining whether to continue the effort to update the Codex standard for process cheese, as well as to revise the Codex standard for fermented milks to include drinks based on fermented milks,” notes Allen Sayler, vice president of regulatory affairs and international standards, International Dairy Foods Association. “Proposed new standards for ‘drinks based on fermented milks’ would recognize yogurt, buttermilk and kefir-based dairy beverages. The remaining issue to be decided is whether these products should contain either 40% or 50% dairy ingredients.”

The category of drinks based on fermented milks has grown rapidly in past years and thus deserves some attention. In the United States, these products are often called smoothies, while in other countries they might be called yogurt drinks. Smoothies typically contain fruit and dairy, and are opaque in appearance, giving the perception of creaminess and a presence of dairy. However, in the States, the word “smoothie” has no set definition, and there is no requirement that the product contain any dairy ingredients. Currently, there also are no standards of identity for yogurt drinks, and thus no requirement that any specific amount of yogurt be present, although yogurt, the characterizing ingredient, should be present in a substantial quantity.

In contrast, Codex standards require that commonly known dairy terms can only be used for products that actually meet specific standards and contain set levels of dairy ingredients. Examples of these terms include yogurt, buttermilk and kefir. To date, there has been no consensus at CCMMP on the minimum level of dairy for the new category of drinks based on fermented milk. Most U.S. products currently on the market contain at least 40% or more dairy ingredients, plus various fruit and flavoring ingredients. As a result, the U.S. dairy industry is supporting the 40% value at the upcoming February 2010 CCMMP meeting in New Zealand. 

Most smoothies or yogurt drinks produced in the United States have a shelf life of 21 to 30 days, meaning that they could easily be exported to Mexico and Central America. While U.S. consumers readily reach for a yogurt smoothie, international customers may be more likely to purchase a fermented milk drink, yogurt drink, kefir drink or buttermilk drink. Many countries have no current legislation on this product category, but use Codex standards since the WTO encourages governments to base their national requirements on international standards such as those of Codex. 

“There is an eight-step process for introducing new Codex standards, and the entire process often takes years to complete,” Lewis notes. “Other Codex dairy issues include dairy model export certificates, outdated standards for processed cheese, and various food additive petitions, many of which are inconsistent with current industry practice.”

The next step in the proposed changes to dairy standards will be made in February 2010, when the Codex and CCMMP meet in New Zealand. Lewis and Sayler anticipate that a consensus on the category of drinks based on fermented milk will be reached at that meeting.

In order to keep the U.S. dairy industry informed on Codex, ISO and other international standards activities, IDFA has established a new International Standards Task Force. For more information on upcoming Codex issues or the IDFA International Standards Task Force, contact Sayler at 202/220-3544.

Recently the U.S. Manufacturing and Ingredients Marketing team of Dairy Management Inc. became more closely aligned with the USDEC. “This strategic move reflects the increasing globalization of U.S. food manufacturers, and the commitment of DMI and USDEC to keep U.S. dairy ingredients competitive in the global marketplace,” Lewis says. Savvy dairy manufacturers should be poised to react as Codex regulations progress toward adoption. 

Sharon Gerdes is a food industry consultant who works with Dairy Management Inc. to promote the use of dairy ingredients in food and beverage formulations. For assistance with dairy questions, contact DMI’s Dairy Technical Support Hotline at 800/248-8829 or techsupport@innovatewithdairy.com.