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Creation of International Dairy Hygiene Standards
By Jill S. Stoffers
paper was researched and written to fulfill the M.A. project requirement for
completing the Monterey Institute of International Studies’ Master of Arts in
Commercial Diplomacy. It was not commissioned by any government or other
organization. The views and analysis presented are those of the student alone.
For more information about the Commercial Diplomacy program and the M.A. project requirement, please visit www.commercialdiplomacy.org.
harmonization of international food safety standards has significant
implications for U.S. businesses and consumers. International standard setting
provides opportunities to raise international standards and thus protect U.S.
commercial interests and American consumers. However when harmonized standards
are set lower than domestic standards, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration
(FDA) can come under pressure to lower domestic health and safety regulations to
international levels, which can increase liability risk for businesses and
decrease protection for American consumers.
Codex Committee on Food Hygiene (CCFH) is currently drafting The
Code of Hygienic Practice for Milk and Milk Products (Milk Code)—a set of
harmonized hygiene standards for internationally traded dairy products. To date,
the U.S. cheese industry has not gotten involved in the drafting process.
However the Milk Code will have an immediate affect on the industry:
paper is designed to demonstrate to U.S. Cheese Industry Association (USCIA)
members that the costs of participating proactively in the Codex process are
much less than the costs they would incur if an international standard lower
than the current U.S. standard is adopted. The paper presents the history and
current challenges of creating international dairy hygiene standards, as well as
a description of the legal and commercial implications for the U.S. cheese
industry of the Code of Hygienic Practice
for Milk and Milk Products as it is currently drafted. The paper also
analyzes the political, institutional, and policy aspects of the issue and
provides both policy recommendations and an action strategy for USCIA members.
paper does not address whether or not the WTO should rely on Codex to set
standards, recommendations and guidelines; to what degree the U.S. should adhere
to Codex standards, recommendations and guidelines; whether the WTO needs to
clarify how its DSB will interpret Codex recommendations and guidelines as
opposed to Codex standards; or issues of transparency within the WTO and in
Codex. While these are interesting and timely questions, they are beyond the
scope of this paper.
For the purposes of
this project I assume the fictitious role of assistant to the Vice President for
International and Government Affairs of a fictitious industry association, the
U.S. Cheese Industry Association (USCIA). I have been tasked with writing a
report that 1) updates USCIA members on the status of the Codex standards, and
2) offers recommendations and a strategy for ensuring that USCIA’s interests
are reflected in the Codex standards.
chose harmonization of dairy hygiene standards for my project topic because I am
interested in food safety, dispute settlement and international harmonization of
standards. As traditional barriers to trade fall, international cooperation and
harmonization will become increasingly important to achieve universal goals such
as food safety.
The Codex Committee on Food Hygiene (CCFH) is in the process of drafting The Code of Hygienic Practice for Milk and Milk Products (Milk Code)—a set of harmonized standards for internationally traded dairy products. As currently drafted, these standards are lower than U.S. standards; they do not require pasteurization or other equivalent measures although such measures have been scientifically proven to protect consumer health. Because WTO dispute settlement panels often rely on Codex standards in settling food safety disputes, the standard as currently written could put pressure on the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to lower its standards. Among other outcomes, this could expose the U.S. cheese industry to greater liability, increase USCIA’s lobbying costs, change commercial conditions for the industry, and decrease consumer confidence in cheese as a safe product. All of these outcomes would have a negative affect on the profitability and competitiveness of the U.S. cheese industry.
The Codex Alimentarius Commission (Codex), headquartered
in Rome, Italy is an international non-governmental organization that was
established to promote both food safety and international trade. The World Trade
Organization (WTO) recognizes Codex as the body responsible for setting
international food safety standards, and it uses Codex standards as benchmarks
in settling international trade disputes. According to the WTO’s Agreement on
the Application of Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures (SPS Agreement), nations
that maintain standards higher than Codex must provide scientific justification
for doing so.
For the past 15 years, the Codex Committee on Food
Hygiene (CCFH) has worked continuously to harmonize international dairy hygiene
standards. Progress has stalled primarily due to differences between the United
States and France regarding the acceptable level of public health risk
associated with raw milk products, particularly cheese.
· The U.S. position is that raw milk products are “potentially hazardous foods” that can support the rapid growth of toxigenic microorganisms and may pose significant public health threats. U.S. law mandates that pasteurization or equivalent processing methods be used to ensure the safety of milk products sold in the United States.
· The French (and EU) position is that the health threats posed by these foods can be minimized through good veterinary practices and that pasteurization or other equivalent measures should not be required. EU law (which the French follow) mandates that raw milk cheese be free from harmful bacteria but does not mandate pasteurization or equivalent production methods.
Last March, in order to break this 15-year impasse between the United States and France, U.S. delegates, as well as the other CCFH members, agreed to a French proposal to first determine the end use of milk and then identify steps necessary to reduce consumer risk for these end uses. With this as the basic framework, the CCFH is currently developing international dairy hygiene standards that will be forwarded to the Codex Alimentarius Commission for adoption.
the U.S. Cheese Industry
If Codex were to adopt standards for cheese that are lower than those maintained by the United States, the FDA would come under pressure to lower its current sanitary requirements for domestically produced and imported cheese. Lower standards would expose American consumers to more food-born pathogens and would dramatically increase the U.S. cheese industry’s liability risk. Outbreaks of food-born illness related to cheese cost the U.S. cheese industry several million dollars annually. Lowered safety requirements could dramatically increase these costs.
the past, the U.S. cheese industry has been among those most protected by the
government. However new U.S. commitments in the WTO have already begun to erode
this protection, and future agriculture negotiations are expected to continue if
not accelerate this trend. The U.S. cheese industry must become involved in the
Codex drafting process if it is to ensure that its interests will be protected
in the future.
International and Governmental Affairs Department recommends that USCIA pursue a
strategy to ensure that the Codex Milk Code protects the interests of the
domestic cheese industry and American consumers.
The Code should include a general principle that
recognizes the health risks associated with raw milk cheese, and it should
include the following standard. Annexes can be used to provide specific detail,
scenarios, and exceptions.
ready to eat (RTE) cheese sold internationally shall be aged for no less than 60
days at a temperature of no less than 39 degrees Fahrenheit, or the milk used in
cheese production shall be subject to one of the following measures:
irradiation, pasteurization, sterilization, heat-treatment, or other
technologies not yet developed but that achieve results comparable to these
recommendation is likely to be accepted by all CCFH member countries for several
current listeriosis outbreak in France has
increased the likelihood that France will accept a pasteurization or equivalent
measure standard as part of the Code. The outbreak has heightened public
awareness of the potential dangers of raw dairy products and increased public
calls for the government to take steps to protect the French population.
U.S. Codex delegates are well positioned to shape international dairy hygiene standards; as the lead drafting country, the United States is charged with structuring the Milk Code and creating drafts.
has developed a three-part strategy for ensuring that the Codex Alimentarius
Commission (CAC) adopts the standard outlined above.
should implement this strategy immediately after receiving approval from its
members. The goal should be to get the CCFH, at its next (October 2000) meeting,
to unanimously agree to the recommended standard and to incorporate it into the Code
of Hygienic Practice for Milk and Milk Products. The standards could then be
forwarded to the full CAC for adoption at its July 2001 meeting.
this timeline cannot be met, USCIA recommends that the standard be incorporated
into the Code as soon as possible and that the full set of standards be
forwarded to the CAC for approval in July 2003. The costs for a one-year
strategy are estimated at $575,000; a three-year strategy will cost an estimated
$900,000. This is a relatively small price to pay to ensure that U.S. industry
interests are satisfied in the Codex international dairy hygiene standards.
USCIA will not ask for additional funding, but will draw this money from annual
timing is right for USCIA to take a proactive role in the creation of Codex
dairy hygiene standards:
Agreement on the Application of Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures
Rules for trade in agriculture and food products were
incorporated into the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) for the
first time as part of the Uruguay Round (UR) of multilateral trade negotiations
(1986-1993). In order to ensure that these newly negotiated agricultural tariff
reductions would not be circumvented by the establishment of non-tariff,
standards measures, the Agreement on the Application of Sanitary and
Phytosanitary Measures (SPS Agreement) was also negotiated.
The SPS Agreement imposes discipline on how member countries may restrict
trade in order to protect human, animal and plant populations, yet it also
reaffirms a member’s sovereign right to protect human, animal and plant life
or health at the level it considers appropriate. The most important features of
the Agreement are:
 Listeriosis is a sometimes-fatal food-born illness caused by the bacteria, Listeria monocytogenes. Information on listeira and listeriosis is included in Appendix 3 of this paper.
 Jeffrey J. Schott, The Uruguay Round: An Assessment, p. 8. Member countries recognized that measures adopted by national governments under GATT Article XX (General Exceptions) could be used as disguised non-tariff barriers.
 Article 2.2 of the Agreement on the Application of Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures.
 Marsha A. Echols, “Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures,” p. 199.
 Article 5.7 of the Agreement on the Application of Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures.
 Article 5.1 of the Agreement on the Application of Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures.
 Marsha A. Echols, “Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures,” p. 200.
 Article 5.5 of the Agreement on the Application of Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures.
 Marsha A. Echols, “Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures,” p. 201.
 Article 3.1 of the Agreement on the Application of Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures.
 Article 3.1-3.4 of the Agreement on the Application of Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures.
 Marsha A. Echols, “Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures,” p. 206.
 Article 4.1 of the Agreement on the Application of Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures.
 Article 7 and Annex B of the Agreement on the Application of Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures.
 Article 12 of the Agreement on the Application of Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures.
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