As trade negotiations with Canada loom, FDA allows ultrafiltered milk's use in cheese
- Last week, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration ruled to allow ultrafiltered milk — sometimes abbreviated as UF — to be used to make cheese, reports Food Navigator. The relaxed restrictions could help U.S. dairy farmers, who lost a vital export product when Canada allowed domestic production of less expensive ultrafiltered milk.
- “The FDA is taking this action now due to recent changes in some export markets that have caused the U.S. dairy industry to experience oversupply and pricing challenges with domestically produced UF milk,” the FDA said in a statement.
- Ultrafiltered milk is fresh farm milk run through a filter that retains all its protein components, including casein and whey proteins, but reduces the amount of water. Some lactose, minerals and water soluble vitamins present in milk are lost along with water.
The U.S. and Canada are among each other's largest trading partners. According to the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, Canada was the largest goods export market for the U.S. in 2015. It was also the second-largest supplier of goods imported into the nation in the same year. The issue of ultrafiltered milk, however, has curdled some of that goodwill.
The dairy issue between the U.S. and Canada is both multifaceted and contentious. Canada has steep tariffs in place for most dairy products to try and grow its own dairy industry. So, the U.S. and other countries have been exporting a syrupy, processed, high-protein product called ultrafiltered milk, which got past the tariffs. Canadian food processors showed a strong preference for the inexpensive import, so Canada created a new similar class of milk with a below-market-price that its own farmers could sell to producers.
As a result, Canadians quit buying the imported ultrafiltered milk products. U.S. dairy producers ended up with a surplus of UF milk on their hands, putting financial stress on dairy farmers. Now, U.S. dairy exports are down.
"Almost overnight, we lost $150 million worth of market to the Canadians," International Dairy Foods Association President and CEO Michael Dykes told Food Dive in an interview about the issue last month.
The FDA’s relaxed restrictions on the use of ultrafiltered milk in cheese production could help the dairy industry — which has been advocating for such a move for nearly two decades — overcome these struggles.
“It’s more practical and economical to ship this liquid, filtered milk to cheesemakers, other dairy manufacturers and even food processors in this concentrated form,” John Umhoefer, executive director of the Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association told the LaCrosse Tribune. The FDA previously allowed some use of ultrafiltered milk in cheese products, but it couldn't be used unless the ultrafiltered product was made in the same plant as the cheese. In other words, it couldn't be shipped in.
Dykes told Food Dive that the ultrafiltered milk represented only a part of the problem with Canadian trade. Dairy farmers there also started producing enough to create an oversupply, so they started selling powdered skim milk on the international market — at prices much lower than the U.S. or any other countries could. Earlier this summer, Dykes and other national dairy organizations in the U.S., New Zealand, Australia, Mexico, Argentina and the E.U. sent letters to their national trade ministers asking for them to petition the World Trade Organization to take action on the Canadian cross-subsidization in the global market.
As for the impact the dairy issue may have on the North American Free Trade Agreement renegotiation talks, much remains to be seen. But the added tension between the U.S. and Canada over ultrafiltered milk doesn’t help. President Trump has been rather outspoken about NAFTA being a "disaster for our country," allowing free trade for some items, but tariffs on others. Trump previously called what Canada’s protectionist dairy trading policies did to American farm workers “a disgrace.”
Yet, Canadian leaders have another viewpoint. In a letter sent to governors of New York and Wisconsin earlier this year, Canadian Ambassador to the U.S. David MacNaughton expressed that Canada was not responsible for financial losses to dairy farmers. He pointed out that the United States' own dairy outlook report "clearly indicates the poor results in the U.S. sector are due to U.S. and global overproduction."
- FoodNavigator-USA FDA allows use of ultrafiltered milk in cheese to ease fallout from new Canadian pricing scheme
- U.S. Food and Drug Administration Guidance for Industry: Ultrafiltered Milk in the Production of Standardized Cheeses and Related Cheese Products
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