Nearly 93 percent of the milk in the U.S. is below 400,000 somatic cell count (SCC), but none of our international trading partners see that. They see 750,000.
In April, the regulatory body that sets the SCC standard passed on a chance to change the legal limit from 750,000 to 400,000 cells/mL.
The National Conference on Interstate Milk Shipments decision probably won’t amount to much here in the U.S., since the dairy industry has already set higher standards for itself. But it could affect international markets.
Quality has improved
“Lower somatic cells are equated to higher quality,” says Jamie Jonker, vice-president of scientific and regulatory affairs for the National Milk Producers Federation.
Every dairy producer knows that and most of them have taken steps to improve their milk quality.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture report, “Determining U.S. Milk Quality Using Bulk-tank Somatic Cell Counts, 2011,” 92.7 percent of milk produced in the U.S. is below 400,000 cells/mL. If consumers want more quality, they’ll find it in U.S. milk with 47.7 percent being at less than 200,000 cells/mL.
The report was released September 2012 and covers the entire year of 2011. A new report for 2012 will come out this September and is likely to show further improvements.
States at the plate
Besides initiatives at the producer and co-op level, several states have been proactive in moving their SCC towards 400,000 while, in turn, supplying the quality that milk buyers want.
Idaho and Washington have already moved the SCC limit to 400,000 for their herds in the past year. Nearby Oregon is trending in that direction with its standard moving to 500,000 last May.
Bob Naerebout, executive director of the Idaho Dairymen’s Association, was a part of his state’s move towards producing higher-quality milk. He even went before the Idaho State Legislature for approval of the rule.
He said it helped Idaho that their standard was already set at 500,000 in 2010, so the shift to 400,000 was not too drastic for producers.
The move for Idaho was made out of necessity to meet customers’ demands both domestically and internationally.
“Idaho does export the vast majority of what we produce in dairy and finished products, if not in the U.S. then on the international market,” says Naerebout.
Naerebout believes it is important for the national limit be moved and he is optimistic that will happen within the next few years.