The bureaucrats punted again.

For the seventh time in 16 years, the National Conference on Interstate Milk Shipments (NCIMS) has turned down a request to upgrade the standard for somatic cell count.

The NCIMS, made up of state regulators who oversee milk-safety rules, last week turned down a request from the National Milk Producers Federation to lower the SCC legal limit from 750,000 cells/mL to 400,000, starting in 2015.

In previous years, similar proposals by the NMPF or the National Mastitis Council also were voted down. One possible explanation: The regulators who make up NCIMS are primarily responsible for milk safety and somatic cell count is not a milk-safety issue. 

Because the NCIMS only meets every other year, it will be 2015 before the proposal can be debated again. 

Many in the dairy industry have argued that lowering the limit from 750,000 to 400,000 would bring the United States in greater harmony with the rest of the world, which would boost the other countries’ confidence in U.S. exports.

Here is a statement from the National Milk Producers Federation expressing disappointment over the NCIMS vote.

“…Dairy farmers in the world’s major milk-producing regions have made great strides in reducing somatic cell count levels. Regulatory systems around the world have moved to incorporate these lower somatic cell count levels, and the U.S. needs to be on board with that process, not be left watching from the side of the road by the failure to update our standards,” said Jerry Kozak, president and CEO of the National Milk Producers Federation. “We continue to be perplexed by the inconsistency of those state regulators who voted to make it easier to import Grade A dairy products into the United States by outsourcing mandatory inspections, while at the same time rejecting efforts to facilitate the export of American dairy products,” he said.

“A similar somatic cell count proposal was defeated by the NCIMS in 2011. Since then, the European Union has moved ahead with a somatic cell count limit of 400,000 for dairy products being exported by the U.S. to EU member countries.

“While the NCIMS has performed admirably in protecting the safety of Grade A milk and dairy products for more than 60 years, we are now in a global dairy marketplace and the Conference needs to recognize this reality,” Kozak said.

“Our farmers are doing their part by continuing to provide ever-higher quality milk, but they are not getting credit for it with overseas customers because we are at the mercy of a regulatory mechanism that seems unwilling to maintain the same pace of improvement. Unfortunately, NCIMS is currently the only national regulatory forum at which to resolve these important issues for the dairy industry,” he said.

“NMPF also expressed disappointment at the NCIMS delegates’ rejection this week of a resolution calling for the enhanced enforcement of federal labeling regulations affecting the marketing of imitation Grade A dairy products, such as soy, hemp and rice ‘milks,’ and soy and rice ‘yogurt.’ The recommendation was also opposed by representatives of the dairy processing community.

“Without the backing of state and federal regulators, and the dairy processing community itself, the nation’s dairy farmers remain the sole advocates for enforcement of proper labeling on imitation dairy products. It is disappointing that the leadership of the dairy processing industry spoke out against the labeling enforcement resolution,” Kozak added.