dispatches from codex alimentarius, geneva

Minimum cheese content remains unsolved in Codex standard

By Joseph James Whitworth

- Last updated on GMT

The 'story of cheese' was featured on posters at the meeting
The 'story of cheese' was featured on posters at the meeting

Related tags Codex alimentarius Food additive

Minimum cheese content remained a controversial point in discussion of a standard for processed cheese at a Codex Alimentarius Commission meeting.

Those in favour of adoption at Step 5 of the Codex standard-setting process highlighted its importance, especially for developing countries; progress made; and said outstanding issues could still be addressed.

They said an international standard, development of which is being led by New Zealand and co-chaired by Uruguay, would provide the necessary assurance about expectations on product composition, description and fair trade.

However, those against adoption said it was premature to adopt without agreeing on issues such as minimum cheese content, without which the standard would not be meaningful.

They added further work was needed on the development of a list of appropriate food additives and some questioned its scope for areas such as flavoured processed cheese and if spreadable cheeses were included.

According to the project document, the standard does not apply to processed cheese preparations, processed cheese spreads and processed cheese food.

Concerns were also raised as some delegates said there are no trade issues and a standard might create such restrictions or impediments.

Adoption at Step 5

The Commission adopted the proposed draft standard at Step 5, noting reservations of Egypt and the EU.

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Delegate for Uruguay at the meeting

It requested New Zealand to convene a Physical Working Group (pWG) and consider hosting a physical meeting to look at outstanding issues.

Completion of the work is planned with adoption at step 8 at Codex Alimentarius in June 2016, with a meeting of the pWG scheduled for February next year.

In a report summarising comments received on a circular letter on the proposed draft standard, minimum cheese content could not be agreed.

“The report of the Physical Working Group and the comments to the circular letter point to continuing differences of opinion among members and it is therefore neither appropriate nor possible to include a specific minimum cheese content figure in the proposed draft standard.

“There does, however, seem to be support for retaining the statement that ‘cheese shall be the single largest ingredient of the raw materials described in 3.1 on a dry matter basis’.”

Some delegates supported specifying minimum cheese content while others were happy to leave it unspecified as long as the information is available from the label.

New Zealand spoke about progress made on the scope and product definition, use of gelatin and starches, stabilisers and emulsifiers, and food labelling provisions and consumer information.

Past attempts

The 37th session of the Codex Alimentarius Commission agreed to start work on a general standard for processed cheese and reactivate the Codex Committee on Milk and Milk Products (CCMMP).

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Codex Meeting in Geneva- CAC 38

It had agreed to establish a pWG, led by New Zealand and co-chaired by Uruguay and working in English and Spanish.

Standards were revoked in 2010 following a recommendation from CCMMP that they were outdated and no longer being used by industry.

CCMMP attempted to develop a revised standard but was unable to reach consensus on issues such as minimum cheese content and use of substances such as starch and gelatine. It decided to discontinue work at its 8th session in 2010.

Twenty-seven countries said a national standard for processed cheese existed but scope varied significantly.

How to express cheese content also remains an issue as some countries did it as a proportion of the cheese mix and others as a proportion of the finished product, and sometimes it was calculated on a ‘whole basis’ and sometimes on a ‘dry matter basis’. 

Any standard would go alongside the Codex General Standard for Cheese (CODEX STAN 283-1978). 

Related topics Regulation & Safety Cheese

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