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NMPF Tells FDA: Dairy Equivalence Process Must Uphold Food Safety, Resolve Barriers to U.S. Exports

June 13, 2018

In May, NMPF told the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that the agency needs to adopt a prudent approach on dairy equivalence issues that will be supportive of U.S. dairy exports. At issue is FDA’s determination of whether a foreign country has “equivalent” food safety parameters to the United States, such as those followed by dairy farmers and processors to ensure consumers receive safe milk products.

Earlier this spring, in its first-ever equivalence action, FDA determined that European Union (EU) shellfish are as safe as those harvested in the United States, and as a result recommended granting equivalence to certain types of raw shellfish coming from the EU. This determination is meant to restart trade after an eight-year stalemate that began when the EU abruptly cut off access to its market for U.S. shellfish.

NMPF expressed concerns that the manner in which the U.S. government is handling this shellfish trade topic would pose a deep concern if that same process were applied to the trade of dairy foods. National Milk raised the issue in light of the publication this spring of FDA’s shellfish equivalence determination, and ongoing “Grade A” dairy equivalence assessments of New Zealand, Canada and various countries in the European Union (EU).

In detailed comments to FDA, NMPF and the U.S. Dairy Export Council (USDEC) pointed out that it would be extremely problematic if the agency applied the same process to the dairy industry, as that approach would run counter to nationally harmonized food safety regulations for dairy, fall short of upholding high U.S. consumer protections, and fail to sufficiently tackle barriers to U.S. dairy exports, among other concerns.

NMPF also met with Dr. Stephen Ostroff, deputy commissioner of FDA, and numerous FDA staff working on dairy and trade issues to explain why the U.S. dairy industry has concerns, and to pledge to work with FDA to address these worries by pursuing a more workable approach to tackling dairy trade issues, including those pertaining to equivalence. In a follow-up, NMPF and USDEC jointly sent a letter to FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb to reiterate dairy’s concerns and commitment to collaborating with FDA and its interagency partners.