Finally, someone articulated what I have been thinking for years. Here is what a reader from Vermont had to say following a story we ran about the National Conference on Interstate Milk Shipments failing to adopt a stricter SCC standard in the U.S.:

“…It is absolutely stupid that the industry doesn’t take advantage of an opportunity to enhance its image and the quality of its product! Does someone think that dairy farming is a “right”? No, it is a privilege and those who want to continue sloppy practices need to get better or get out!” the reader said. 

This comes up from time to time. Whenever we support the idea of a stricter somatic cell count standard, we get phone calls from people who complain that a stricter standard would put them out of business. This past Monday, I got a call from a dairy farmer in Florida who said it’s difficult for him to keep SCC down without free-stall barns. He mentioned the problems he has with Florida’s heat and humidity and that a 400,000 cell/ml somatic cell count standard would force him out of business.

I got another call from a producer who blamed his somatic cell count problems on stray voltage.

I try to be sympathetic, but at the same time wonder if these aren’t just excuses. If someone has decided to go into farming, then he or she has to accept the consequences and “take ownership.”  He can’t expect the rest of the dairy industry to remain stagnant, with out-of-date quality standards, just because he has his own particular problems. The industry needs to move on, with or without him.

Yet, some people believe it’s their “right” to be dairy farmers.

Not everyone is qualified to produce food for human consumption. It is a privilege, not a right. Dairy farmers have a tremendous responsibility to produce a safe, wholesome product that meets quality standards.

Technically, a person can conform to standards when the standards are low, as currently is the case with a 750,000 somatic cell count limit. But that is not a good position to be in, long-term. Some co-ops now require producers to meet a 400,000 standard, and our international trading partners expect it, as well. I personally think the day will come when big retailers like Wal-Mart begin demanding it.

A vast majority of the dairy farms in the U.S. are producing milk at or below a 400,000 somatic cell count — or at least they’re capable of it.

The burden of proof needs to be on those who can’t meet the quality standards. They shouldn’t hold the majority back. 

Selling a food product through public commerce is a privilege, not a right.