The dairy industry received good news on the regulatory front in August. The Food and Drug Administration granted enforcement discretion for the use and labeling of ultrafiltered (UF) milk in all standardized cheeses and related cheese products covered by the federal standards of identity.

UF milk is milk that has been filtered to remove some of the water and lactose, which increases the protein content while reducing total fluid volume. The use of UF milk increases efficiency in cheesemaking and enhances cheese yield. It is also responsive to many dairy consumers’ desire for environmentally friendly and sustainable production practices.

The International Dairy Foods Association and the Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association praised the action. The dairy industry has been seeking approval for this natural dairy ingredient in cheesemaking for nearly 20 years, according to the WCMA, Madison.

 “FDA’s announcement is an important win for Wisconsin and other great cheesemaking states,” said WCMA Executive Director John Umhoefer.


Ruling was nearly 20 years in the making

The dairy industry has been working with FDA for nearly two decades to allow the use of UF milk in cheeses with a federal standard of identity – such as Cheddar, mozzarella, Colby and brick. 

It is more practical and economical to ship filtered milk to cheesemakers and other customers in concentrated form, Umhoefer said. It allows for fewer trucks on the roads, which reduces transportation costs, IDFA noted.

 FDA has allowed the use of fluid UF milk in standardized cheeses if the filtration took place at the cheese factory where natural cheese was made, and the agency has issued three exceptions to allow for the use of UF milk over the years.  For example, in 2005, the agency allowed for the use of fluid UF milk in Swiss cheese manufacturing.  Umhoefer stated that the ruling means that UF milk can be brought in as a natural dairy ingredient to make any natural cheese, provided that the physical, chemical and flavor properties of the cheese are not affected.

Until now, U.S. cheesemakers have been allowed to use UF milk in only a few standardized cheeses, but with complex labeling requirements. At the same time, a rule has been pending at FDA that supports the use of UF milk in all standardized cheeses, but it also includes impractical labeling requirements.


FDA will exercise discretion

In the notice in the Federal Register, FDA said that while it completes rulemaking to revise labeling requirements, it will exercise enforcement discretion regarding the declaration of UF milk and nonfat UF milk ingredients when used in standardized cheeses and related cheese products. This will allow the cheese industry to use UF milk more widely and will streamline the existing complex labeling requirements. This guidance will not affect the use and labeling of UF milk in fluid milk and other dairy products.

IDFA will work with FDA as it accepts input on a final rule that will allow the use of UF milk in all cheeses.

FDA will also relax the position it has taken on the ingredient statement for natural cheeses made with fluid UF milk.  The agency had held the position that the words “ultrafiltered milk” would be required on the ingredient panel.


Lifting a burden on small cheesemakers

In public comments offered to the agency in 2005, the Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association explained that this labeling requirement would burden smaller cheese manufacturers with limited budgets and create a difficult packaging and labeling environment for companies that cut and shred cheeses which may or may not have been made with UF milk. FDA will continue to encourage this labeling, but will use “enforcement discretion” on this issue.

The FDA action “falls squarely within the philosophy of the current administration to reduce unnecessary regulatory burdens,” said Michael Dykes, IDFA president and CEO of the Washington, D.C.-based organization. “After lagging for more than two decades, it is good to see the regulations on the use of UF milk are catching up with this safe and sustainable production technology, which is already used around the world.”

“Fluid ultrafiltered milk is a natural dairy ingredient – it’s concentrated milk that helps cheesemakers, and ultimately dairy farmers, because great dairy products can be made more economically,” Umhoefer said. FDA’s discretion on labeling will give cheesemakers the flexibility to use or not use this ingredient without needing redundant packaging materials noting this milk ingredient, he said.  


— Contributed by the International Dairy Foods Association and the Wisconsin Cheesemakers Association.