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March 2013 Archive for Dairy Talk

RSS By: Jim Dickrell, Dairy Today

Jim Dickrell is the editor of Dairy Today and is based in Monticello, Minn.

400,000 Somatic Cells X 3

Mar 22, 2013

Previous efforts failed to lower the national SCC limit to 400,000. Will 2013 be different?

Will 2013 be lucky? For the past eight meetings of the National Conference on Interstate Milk Shipments (NCIMS), proponents of quality milk have tried and failed to lower the national limit to 400,000 cells/ml.

In 2011, with the backing of the National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF), delegates came close. The proposal to lower the limit failed by just one anonymous vote, 25 to 26. 

Perhaps this year will be different. Three proposals have been submitted to NCIMS to lower the regulatory limit to 400,000 cells/ml. Proposal #101, from NMPF, would do it in two stages. Stage 1 would lower the limit to 600,000 cells/ml by January 1, 2014. Stage 2 would lower it to 400,000 cells/ml by Jan. 1, 2015.

Farmers who exceed these limits two of the previous four months would receive a warning letter. And those that exceed the limit three out of five months would have their Grade A permit suspended.

Both Proposal #102 and #103 would take the SCC limit directly down to 400,000 cells/ml, though the date of implementation is not specified. Proposal #102 was submitted by the West Virginia Bureau for Public Health. Proposal #103 was submitted by the New Mexico Department of Agriculture.

"I believe we will get this passed in 2013," says Jerry Kozak, President and CEO of the National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF).

Let’s hope so. For years, NMPF opposed proposals—sometimes stridently--to lower the limit. Up until 2011, NMPF argued the Pasteurized Milk Ordinance, which NCIMS governs, is a milk safety document. NMPF argued cell counts are a measure of milk quality, not safety. NMPF further argued that milk quality is a market issue, and should be adjudicated by market competition.

Well, the global dairy market has adjudicated. In order to qualify for export certification to the European Union, U.S. dairy exports must now meet the 400,000 cells/ml standard at the farm level. And since the U.S. standard still stands at 750,000 cells/ml, USDA has had to step into the breach to certify our exports to meet the 400,000 cell/ml standard.

The vast majority of U.S. milk already does. Federal Milk Marketing Order data from 2011 shows the U.S. average is 206,000 cells/ml. And just a small portion of the milk supply, perhaps a few percentage points, exceeds 400,000 cells.

The European Union does allow for exceptions for farms that are making progress toward the 400,000 cell/ml. The vast majority of these so-called derogations are made on an annual basis. USDA, which is the certifying export agency, has granted about 3,000 derogations.

But these derogations have to be renewed each year if these farms want to continue to sell.

All of this is a pain in the backside for farms, dairy co-ops (which have handled the bulk of the derogation applications) and USDA. It would be far simpler if NCIMS would simply set the U.S. national standard to 400,000 cells/ml and be done with it.

This year’s NCIMS meeting is April 19-24 in Indianapolis. You can read more on the meeting here

For a history of SCC regulation in the U.S., click here and scroll to page 31.

Animal Welfare Audits Need Accountability

Mar 10, 2013

Videos that show abusive animal handling practices at dairies and slaughterhouses show up on the Internet with sickening regularity. The dairy industry must do better.

Videos that show abusive animal handling practices on dairy farms and in slaughterhouses show up on the Internet with sickening regularity.

In their wake, there is the usual condemnation from industry spokesfolks, claims that the practices are an aberration and promised resolve to do better. Until, of course, the next video pops up and the cycle repeats.

The dairy industry must do better, says Jennifer Walker, a veterinarian and Director of Dairy Stewardship with Dean Foods. The industry needs a comprehensive, national on-farm animal welfare auditing program that has definite time lines and holds farmers accountable.

Walker’s words—and warning—carry clout. She represents the largest buyer of fluid milk in the country. "It all boils down to brand protection," she says. "When we lose consumers’ trust, we lose social license which will then lead to increased regulation."

The National Dairy FARM Program is a first step, but Walker worries that it is being implemented differently by various co-ops, is voluntary and has timelines that are far too long. She points to tail-docking as an example. "Do we really need a 10-year phase-out for a practice that is not scientifically defensible?" she asks.

Betsy Flores, National Milk Producer Federation Senior Director of Animal Health & Welfare, heads up the FARM Program. Flores says animal welfare is an evolving issue. Three years ago, the American Association of Bovine Practitioners said tail docking was not a recommended practice, but it did not oppose the practice. It now does. The National Mastitis Council also now says tail docking does not improve milk quality.

In the revised FARM Program, due out in a few months, tail docking likely will no longer be recommended. But it will not be prohibited, says Flores. "We don’t want to exclude a farm [from being in the program] based on one check point. Participation opens the door to conversations on these practices.

"Animal welfare should not be a competitive issue. The intent of the program is continuous improvement and that happens through including all producers," says Flores. "The accountability comes through the market chain."

But that is precisely Walker’s point. She worries that a food retailer will grow tired of recurring animal abuse videos, particularly if they occur on one of their own supplier farms. They will then mandate a welfare program that is far more burdensome and bureaucratic—and may actually do little to improve animal well-being. And it then could become a competitive issue, with some brands saying their milk comes from humanely raised cows while implying milk from their competitors does not.

Dairy farmers bristle at the thought of more audits, more inspectors and more compliance costs. But Walker says some Dean processing plants already have 10 to 12 different audits each year to show plant processes are in compliance. Customer transparency and verification are simply the new reality.

Having one, national animal welfare program—with accountability and timeliness—is Walker’s preferred approach. The knee jerk reaction would be to condemn Walker and Dean Foods. A more adult response would take this recommendation to heart—and act on it.

For more on Walker’s take on animal welfare, click here.

For more on the national Dairy FARM Program, click here

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