by Jim Dickrell, editor, Dairy Today
Beginning Oct. 1, 2010, any dairy processor exporting to the European Union will need to certify that each farm that supplies milk for those exports must be below 400,000 somatic cell count.
In the past, processors were required to meet the 400,000 SCC level with co-mingled milk from multiple dairies, but not on an individual farm basis. Now, each farm which supplies milk must meet the 400,000 SCC level. Three consecutive months above 400,000 on a geometric means are slightly lower than arithmetic averages.
The new rules will be extremely disruptive to milk processors, says a source with a national co-op. From 15% to 25% of milk volume will not be in compliance at certain times of the year in the Northeast and Midwest, this source says. The Midwest, with the largest number of small farms, will face the greater challenge.
Even if processors segregate the higher cell count milk, process it separately and sell it domestically, by-products of those dairy products (cream from fluid, whey from cheese) will have to stay out of export streams.
The European Union established the 400,000 SCC requirement in the late 1990s, but allowed the U.S. to meet it with co-mingled milk in tankers and silos. This new individual farm requirement was added several years ago. However, EU trade representatives recently notified their U.S. counterparts that they were going to start enforcing the requirement July 1, 2010. Further negotiations were able to push that deadline back to Oct. 1.
Dairy exports to the EU account for less than 5% of the value of annual total exports. “But looking at just the dairy trade data underestimates the problem,” says Shawna Morris, VP of Trade Policy for the National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF) and the U.S. Dairy Export Council (USDEC).
Nearly a third of the Export Certificates USDA verifies for all EU food exports contain dairy ingredients, she says. And while dairy must make up more than 50% of a food product to be subject to the 400,000 SCC requirement, millions upon millions of export dollars are at stake.
“Most concerning for a dairy processor is the ability to trace back farm SCC data for products using multiple dairy ingredients,” says John Umhoefer, Executive Director of the Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association.
“On one hand, a natural cheese may use fresh milk and concentrated or dried milk powder. Presumably both sources may need to be traced [back to the farm]…. The task borders on impossible for storage dairy ingredients.”
The 400,000 SCC debate has been going on for years. When I was president of the National Mastitis Council in 1999, NMC proposed lowering the SCC limit from 750,000 to 400,000. The proposal was rejected by the National Conference for Interstate Milk Shipments, though it had the support of the Food and Drug Administration.
The proposal has been made several more times, and, every two years, NMPF and Dairy Farmers of America have blocked passage. The excuse: A 400,000 limit is not a human health issue. But the real reason is that a contingent of dairy producers doesn’t want to clean up its act.
The U.S. industry can complain all it wants whether the EU’s new requirement is a new trade barrier. But the longer the U.S. delays meeting world milk quality standards, the more barriers it imposes on itself.
We’ve argued about the 400,000 SCC level for the past decade. Now we have six months to solve it.