For the second time in two years, the National Conference on Interstate Milk Shipments (NCIMS) has quashed a proposal to lower the legal limit for somatic cell counts in milk.

Actually, the full Conference never got a chance to vote on the proposal, since it got bottled up in council or committee. The same thing happened two years ago, ostensibly because the somatic cell count proposal was not a food safety issue.

The NCIMS, which is made up largely of state health department officials, met this week in Wichita, Kan.

The reluctance of NCIMS to lower the somatic cell count standard from 750,000 cells per milliliter to 400,000 may not matter in the long run. The somatic cell count issue is one that will be determined ultimately by the marketplace, not by what a bunch of bureaucrats say. New technologies, such as ultrafiltration and extended-shelf-life pasteurization, will require milk with low somatic cell counts. Increasingly, producers will find they need to produce milk of consistent high quality (i.e., low somatic cell and bacterial counts) in order to ensure market access.