The move would allow the cheese industry to make savings in the transport of milk ingredients for processing and would allow better consistency in production, the National Cheese Institute (NCI)argues. Dairy producers claim the proposal is just a way for the cheese industry to access cheaper milk ingredients from low cost producers in places like India.
The proposal stems from the NCI's petition five years ago asking for the allowance. However the FDA has amended the proposal to include a requirement ensuring that cheeses made this way must saysso on the label, a move the NCI disagrees with.
"Complying with this labeling requirement would be very problematic for NCI members, if implemented as proposed," the NCI stated.
The proposed rule change would update the federal standards of identity for cheeses to allow for the use of milk that has been processed using ultrafiltration technology. FDA has already grantedcheese companies the ability to use liquid UF milk in making three specific cheeses: cheddar, mozzarella and swiss, the NCI noted.
Ultrafiltration is a method in which a membrane is used to remove water or water phase constituents from milk. Milk protein concentrate (MPC) is produced by the subsequent evaporation and drying ofultrafiltered skim milk.
The higher level of the milk protein casein in ultrafiltered milk and MPC provides the benefits of improved consistency of the finished cheese composition and increased cheese yield when used as aningredient in cheese, the NCI argues.
The finished cheese would have the same physical, chemical and nutritional characteristics as cheese made from non-filtered milk, the association stated.
Milk filtration also allows for more efficient transportation of milk as it removes the same constituents that otherwise are separated out with the whey in cheesemaking, the NCI stated.
The organization also notes that the FDA's proposed rule and the final NCI petition refer only to the use of liquid ultrafililtered milk, not the dried version. Some producer groups had expressedconcerns about the revised standards leading to increased use of imported dried ultrafilitered milk.
In publishing the proposed rule the FDA said it has "tentatively" concluded that it would promote honesty and fair dealing in the interest of consumers. The change would also meanthat US cheese makers will be consistent with existing international standards for making cheeses and related cheese products.
The FDA proposes to amend the definitions of ''milk'' and ''nonfat milk'' to allow for the ultrafiltration of milk and nonfat milk. The rule would also define ultrafiltered milk andnonfat milk as raw or pasteurized milk or nonfat milk that is passed over one or more semipermeable membranes.
The process would have to partially remove water, lactose, minerals, and water-soluble vitamins without altering the casein-to-whey protein ratio of the milk and result in a liquid product.
The FDA also proposes that the name of such treated milk is ''ultrafiltered milk'' or ''ultrafiltered nonfat milk''. It would have to be declared as an ingredient in the finishedfood.
The proposals were submitted by the American Dairy Products Institute (ADPI). Another was submitted jointly by the NCI, the Grocery Manufacturers of America and the National Food ProcessorsAssociation (NFPA).
Between 1990 and 1999 imports of ultrafiltered milk and milk protein concentrates rose to 45,000 metric tons from 800 metric tonnes, according to the General Accounting Office. There are nospecific data on ultrafiltered milk.
The primary reasons for the rise was attributed by the GAO to the difference between the US price and the international price for milk protein along with the growing market demand for nutritionalsupplements and other novel foods.
Dry MPC imports are used in several foods other than cheeses, such as frozen desserts, bakery products, and sports and other nutritional supplement products.
The GAO noted that economic disincentives have prevented the domestic production of dry MPC. The office reported that 22 diary plants in the US were engaged in producing fluid UF milk used to makecheese within the plant. Four dairy farms in New Mexico and Texas produce fluid UF milk for transport to cheese plants in the Midwest.
The GAO also found that FDA and state contract inspectors reported no violations related to the use of imported UF milk or MPC in standardized cheese in 1999. However in 2000, two plants in Vermont were issued warning letters for using imported MPC in standardized cheese. The plants subsequently discontinued use of the milk.