An analysis of bulk tank somatic cell counts in four Federal Milk Marketing Orders suggests the 400,000 cell/ml European Union (EU) threshold may be having an impact on U.S. milk quality.
For the first time, the milk volume weighted average of SCCs fell below 200,000 cells/ml in 2012, according to USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS). The average was 206,000 cells/ml in 2011, and it fell to 194,000 cells/ml in 2012.
The European Union now requires that any milk or dairy products have an SCC of less than 400,000 cells/ml based on four consecutive rolling 3-month geometric means. Failure to meet this standard requires farms to obtain a derogation or other non-export market. Since it is difficult and expensive to segregate milk, milk buyers require non-compliance farms to obtain the derogation.
Four Federal Orders—Central, Mideast, Southwest and Upper Midwest—collect SCC data. According to this data, some 6% to 10% of U.S. milk shipments would have been non-compliant in 2012. But these are typically smaller farms, who struggle most with milk quality. "These shipments represented less than 3% of milk shipped during the monitored months," say APHIS officials.
Shipments of non-compliant milk dropped dramatically from just under 10% in January 2012 to 6% in June, and then upticked slightly during the hot summer months. They dropped to less than 6% by December 2012. The milk volume of non-compliant milk was about 3% in January 2012 and then hovered just above 2% the rest of the year.
You can read more on the APHIS report here.