USDA has yet to set the parameters that demonstrate milk quality "progress" in granting derogations (exceptions) to meet European Union export certification.
"We were hoping not to have to do that," says Ken Vorgert, chief of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Dairy Grading Branch. His branch issues the derogations.
He and many in the industry were hoping the National Conference of Interstate Milk Shipments (NCIMS) would lower the U.S. milk standard to 400,000 cells/ml from the current 750,000 cells/ml. But the effort failed earlier this week.
The NCIMS is the ruling body of the Pasteurized Milk Ordinance which sets regulations for Grade A milk. Each state gets one vote in the NCIMS process.
The European Union requires individual farms to meet standards of 400,000 somatic cells/ml and Standard Plate Counts of 100,000 bacteria/ml. USDA certifies export certificates for all dairy products shipped to the European Union. And since processors cannot easily segregate dairy products for export to the European Union, all milk must now meet the standard. The system allows for derogation (exceptions) if farms can show they are close to meeting the standard and make continual efforts at improvement.
But how farms demonstrate they are making progress has yet to be defined by USDA. Quality improvement parameters will have to be announced soon, since about 80 dairy farms were granted an annual derogation in June 2012 because they exceeded the Standard Plate Count requirement of 100,000 bacteria/ml.
The bigger issue comes in August, when some 3,000 derogations for somatic cell counts exceeding 400,000 cells/ml start coming up renewal.
Read more on the NCIMS action here.
Ream more on the EU milk quality requirements here.