In guidance issued Aug. 11, FDA announced its “intent to exercise enforcement discretion regarding the use of UF milk and fluid UF nonfat milk in the production of standardized cheeses and related cheese products … in addition to other required dairy ingredients, provided that the physical, chemical and organoleptic properties of the cheese or cheese product are not affected.”
This varies from the current regulations, which do not list fluid or dried filtered forms of milk obtained through mechanical filtration of milk or nonfat milk as acceptable ingredients for the production of standardized cheeses and related cheese products.
However, it aligns with a proposed rule originally published in 2005 that has yet to be completed due to “competing priorities” at FDA that would allow for the use of fluid UF milk in the production of standardized cheese as long as the “basic nature … and essential characteristics of the food” are maintained, the agency says in the guidance.
FDA pushed to action by industry and legislative requests
The FDA decided to de facto allow the use of UF milk ahead of finalizing the proposed rule in light of recent development in the Canadian export market that is causing the US dairy industry to experience an “oversupply and pricing challenges with domestically produced UF milk,” according to the agency.
“Additionally, we have received requests to exercise enforcement discretion while the rulemaking is pending, in part to mitigate the impact on the US companies producing UF milk,” FDA notes.
To support its decision, FDA pointed to a white paper that found nearly $100 million in exports from the US could be at risk due to a new pricing regimen that Canada introduced in February which allowed certain Canadian milk product ingredients, including UF milk, to be priced by provincial milk marketing boards at or below internationally competitive levels.
According to the report, this move potentially could curtail US exports of such products to Canada, which according to the US Census Bureau was the largest export recipient of UF milk from the US in 2016 with sales at about $102 million. This is a substantial portion of the $733 million in US dairy exports to Canada last year and of the $5 billion in exports worldwide.
Within months of the pricing change, lawmakers noted in a letter to the Trump administration that the “troubling developments” already were having a harmful effect on Minnesota dairy farmers.
For example, the legislators said in the letter, “Grassland Dairy Products, Inc. has ended a number of dairy contracts in our state as a result of lost sales to Canada. Grassland’s Vice President of Business Development has reported the decision will impact one million pounds of milk per day.”
The legislators ask the Trump Administration in the letter to negotiate with the Canadian government an immediate hold on the Class 7 National Ingredient Strategy that is creating this effect, and the province of Ontario’s Class 6 pricing program.
“If this new Canadian policy to discourage its processors from using imported ultra-filtered milk is allowed to continue, it will continue to depress low prices, intensify oversupply and threaten multi-generational Minnesota farms,” according to the letter.
In addition to de facto allowing the use of UF milk and nonfat milk, FDA said it would exercising enforcement discretion with respect to the labeling of standardized cheeses made with UF milk products.
Specifically, it said it wants manufacturers to identify when UF milk is used as an ingredient “when feasible and appropriate,” but it does “not intend to take action against companies that manufacture standardized cheeses and related cheese products that contain ultrafiltered milk or ultrafiltered nonfat milk without declaring them in the ingredient statement, as long as their labels declare milk or nonfat milk in the ingredient statement.”