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.