For the fifth time the NMC (formerly the National Mastitis Council) has voted to submit a proposal to the National Conference on Interstate Milk Shipments (NCIMS) to lower the somatic cell count (SCC) regulatory limit in the United States from the current 750,000 to 400,000 cells/ml. The proposal will be considered at the upcoming Conference, April 29-May 4, 2011 in Baltimore, Md.

The NMC proposal recommends a stepwise drop in SCC to from 750,000 to 400,000 with an effective date of January 1, 2014. In addition, regulatory action would be based on a three-month rolling herd average SCC (calculated using a geometric mean) rather than the current three out of five consecutive samples exceeding the SCC limit.

Why Lower the SCC?
SCC standards are used to define milk as either suitable or not suitable for human consumption. The US SCC standard is the most lenient of any of the developed countries of the world. The vast majority of dairy producing countries, and particularly those with significant international trade of milk and milk products, have adopted 400,000 as the acceptable upper limit for herd bulk tank milk intended for human consumption.

Milk processors are facing increasing restrictions on potential exports of dairy products, especially into European Union countries, says NMC Immediate Past President Pamela L. Ruegg, DVM, MPVM, Dipl. ABVP, University of Wisconsin, Madison. This is especially true for by-products (such as whey) that are often sold on international markets. 

“If the US doesn’t adopt a uniform standard that is acceptable to most importing countries, producers will be faced with a confusing mix of SCC limits depending on the needs of individual milk purchasers,” Ruegg says. “The lack of a uniform national standard will also create difficulties for producers in understanding the evaluation method used to determine if their milk is acceptable to their processor. All in all, the ability of our dairy industry to compete internationally requires consistency and transparency in setting and determining SCC limits.”

Reducing the US standard to 400,000 would lead to:

improved consumer confidence in the safety and wholesomeness of the US milk supply

improved consumer confidence that the milk supply is produced by healthy cows

harmonization of standards for international trade of milk and milk products

improved competitive position of the US dairy industry in the global market place

reduced risk of residues in milk

reduced risk of the presence of human pathogens and their toxic products in the milk supply

greater profits to producers through decreased herd level of mastitis

Adopting the rolling geometric mean calculation for herd SCC would provide producers with a valuable management statistic and would lead to increased international harmonization of standards as nearly all major dairy producing countries use the geometric mean calculation. The geometric mean is the mathematically correct statistic to use for averaging SCC data.

A 400,000 cell/ml limit is achievable by our industry, Ruegg states. “The US dairy industry has tremendously educated and innovative producers who have the knowledge and ability to achieve this limit.  Most milk is already below this limit and there are ample resources available to help transition producers to the new limit, assuming that sufficient time is available for the producers to adapt.  This is the reason that the NMC proposed a gradual phase-in of the new limit, reaching 400,000 cells/ml in 2014.”

This is also a tremendous opportunity for dairy veterinarians to work with their producers on milk quality. “Analysis of data from our seven years of experience with milk quality teams really demonstrated the positive milk quality impact that veterinarians and producers can make when they work together with common milk quality goals,” Ruegg says.

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