In a stunning turn of events, delegates to the National Conference on Interstate Milk Shipments (NCIMS) voted 25 for, 26 against a proposal to lower the U.S. Grade A standard to 400,000 cells/ml yesterday.
The proposal had been amended to extend implementation dates out to Jan. 1, 2014 for 600,000 cells/ml and Jan. 1, 2016 for 400,000 cells/ml. That amendment passed 41-10. But when the amended proposal was brought up for a final vote, the measure failed 25-26.
Delegates opposed to the proposal continued to argue that somatic cell counts are not a human health issue, and thus their regulation should not be part of the Pasteurized Milk Ordinance. They also argued the measure will put too many small and southern dairy farmers out of business. Behind the scenes, state’s rights issues also came into play.
But hanging over the NCIMS meeting and the entire issue is the European Union (EU) requirement that individual farms meet the 400,000 cell/ml limit in order to qualify for export certification. The United States Department of Agriculture and EU officials are currently in consultation on how the U.S. can meet those standards. USDA and EU officials last met in July 2010 on the issue. The hope was that NCIMS would pass the 400,000 SCC proposal and that EU would allow the U.S. to implement it over several years.
Sources tell Dairy Today USDA will now be obligated to act and put in place a program that specifies options on how dairy producers can meet the 400,000 cell/ml requirement. It could be as simple as a statement that as long as milk is pasteurized, it meets the requirement. But it could also require actually lowering the somatic cell count standards. “USDA must do something, probably within the next 60 to 90 days,” says one source.
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