“The U.S. is now a major exporting country for dairy products and the world has essentially settled on 400,000 as the appropriate regulatory threshold for somatic cell counts in milk,” states Jonker. “And so, the U.S. is now an outlier in the global marketplace.”
Having SCC at the present national level of 750,000 has presented problems when it comes time to market milk.
International competitors have sometimes pointed out to buyers that U.S. SCC standards aren’t as tight as those of other suppliers, just to gain a competitive advantage, adds Alan Levitt, vice-president of communications for the U.S. Dairy Export Council.
With the SCC at current standards it presents a headache for producers and cooperatives that plan to export any of their products.
According to Jonker, it becomes more complicated and resource-intensive to obtain certification through the USDA, so that dairymen can meet the required attestations on export certificates for milk meeting the 400,000 limit.
It is short-sighted not to meet your potential customers’ requirements of 400,000, Naerebout says. “It’s important for us to recognize that we’re an international market, so you have to go to what the customers in that international market want.”
Positive statement needed
The National Conference on Interstate Milk Shipments (NCIMS) has rejected a 400,000 standard eight times since 1997. It won’t be until 2015 that NCIMS takes up the issue again, since the group only meets every other year.
It is important to remember that NCIMS is charged with protecting the safety of Grade A milk and other dairy products, so milk safety has been its main focus — not somatic cell count which is a milk-quality issue.
Still, many in the industry would like to make a positive statement.
“What we need is that national standard to tell the rest of the world that we are serious about being an important member in the international arena for dairy products,” says Jonker.
The following comments came from an online piece written in April by editor Tom Quaife about the NCIMS ruling entitled, “Another missed opportunity to improve milk quality.”
Mike from the Southeast stated, “I don’t think the politicians punted, I think they made a good choice. Why not let the market dictate what the quality of milk is? Huge improvements have been made in the Southeast because customers demanded it, not because we increased regulation. Not everything that is positive for one region is positive for another region. I applaud this decision.”