Dairy Talk: Not Good Enough

05:12PM Jun 01, 2010
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Jim Dickrell

Two major dairy trade events this past spring remind me of the old bumper sticker, "Think global, act local.”

The first is the European Union (EU) requirement that all U.S. dairy products crossing the pond be made from milk with less than 400,000 somatic cells. This stipulation, in trade documents since 2004, becomes reality on Oct. 1.

The second is China's insistence that the U.S. certify it has been free of Johne's, bovine tuberculosis (TB), brucellosis and anthrax for the past 12 months. At this writing, USDA is using a 30-day extension to work the details out.

Both trade issues point to what is now obvious: The U.S. dairy and cattle industries must think far beyond our own borders when it comes to herd health issues.

In the case of the EU requirement, U.S. dairy leaders have known for the past decade that the world standard is 400,000 cells/ml. But, insisting it is not a health issue, they said 750,000 is good enough for the U.S. market.

On the disease front, a vocal minority of cattle producers have opposed premise registration and a national electronic ID program. By itself, such a program will not eradicate TB, Johne's or anthrax. But it certainly would make tracing infected animals easier, faster and cheaper.

On this issue, at least, dairy industry leaders recognized the importance of a national program. But they failed to convince cattle producers that our current hodgepodge of ID regulations isn't good enough.

Some have argued that these are just the first in a long line of issues that foreign competitors will use to impede trade. They want to close our borders and produce only for the folks here at home.

But global trade impacts us whether we participate or not. As other nations innovate, their exports will clamor for entry into U.S. markets. Consumers will demand them.

Without growth and innovation, the U.S. industry will stagnate. Dairy farms will continue to go out of business.

Even worse, how do we tell U.S. consumers our safety measures and product traceability are not up to world standards? They will not accept "good enough.”

Bonus content:

EU trade dispute

Chinese trade dispute