The EU’s Fuzzy Somatic Cell Count Deadline

Published on: 13:01PM Jul 19, 2010

By Jim Dickrell. Dairy Today editor


Last week, the European Union (EU) issued an Export Certificate requiring dairy products entering EU countries be made from milk with less than 400,000 cells/ml from individual dairy farms. The “effective” date on the certificate is Dec. 1, 2010.


However, U.S. exporters will not be held to that Dec. 1 deadline, says Jaime Castaneda, VP of Strategic Initiatives and Trade Policy for the National Milk Producers Federation. What is firm is the 400,000 cells/ml standard, which EU farmers are asked to meet. But exactly how those cell count averages are determined remains unknown and needs to be worked out, he says.


FDA and the EU will exchange letters on how FDA plans to respond to the requirement. Castaneda also expects the FDA program to go through an expedited federal rulemaking process, which will require publication in the Federal Register and a public comment period. Such a process could easily push the deadline into 2011.


Processors are taking deep sighs of relief, knowing they won’t have to start enforcing the rule in heat of summer. But like all extended deadlines—and this one is fuzzier than most—the danger now comes from a sense of let’s-deal-with-this-later complacency.


What boggles the mind is that getting cell counts below 400,000 is in the interest of the cow, the producer, the industry and the paying consumer.


One angry, unsigned letter-writer told me to shove the 400,000 SCC limit where the sun doesn’t shine because his milk “goes into the bottle”  and is not exported. But why would you put this crappy milk in the bottle with its lousy taste and poor shelf life? And unless this guy is producing milk with little or no butterfat, some of the cream is being skimmed off and used in other products—which very well could end up in export. That’s why everyone will be required to meet the new standard.


NMC (formerly known as the National Mastitis Council) published a paper on abnormal milk back in 2001: “Bulk tank milk with 400,000 cells/ml indicates that 12.5% of the quarters in the herd are infected and producing abnormal milk. At 750,000 cells/ml, approximately 25% of the mammary quarters are infected and producing abnormal milk.”


Then there’s milk loss. Research clearly shows that at 400,000 SCC, a heifer loses 2 lb./day, or 400 lb. per lactation. A mature cow loses 4 lb./day, or 800 lb. per lactation. Even at $12.50/cwt., that’s a $50 to $100/animal annual revenue loss. 


Earl Aalseth, a veterinarian from Lake Stevens, Wash., says the losses from high cell counts are far greater when you account for lost milk production, milk loss from treated cows, treatment costs, quality bonus losses and lower pregnancy rates. (Click on the spreadsheet in the left column of Earl’s story to estimate your losses.)


Culling high cell count cows, even those producing more than 100 lb./day, sometimes makes sense. Ed Kreykes, a Sanborn, Iowa veterinarian and a team of nutritionists evaluated a 1,500-cow Midwest herd that was averaging more than 90 lb. of milk/cow/day. There were several older cows in the herd producing well over 100 lb./cow/day but which also had extremely high cell counts. In fact, two of these cows were each contributing 3% of the herd’s total bulk tank SCC.


Culling the top six SCC cows from the herd would mean a loss of 600+ lb. of milk/day from the bulk tank. But by doing so, the dairy’s quality premium would jump 16¢/cwt. on all milk shipped. Based on the herd’s annual milk shipments, the impact could net more than $30,000 annually. Culling these cows would also save some 60 tons of dry matter feed annually. At today’s feed prices, that could save another $8,000 annually.


So the bottom line message is this: Eventually, whether it’s Dec. 1 or sometime in 2011, the defacto U.S. SCC limit will become 400,000. If your herd is over 400,000 SCC today, why wait?