National Milk Producers Federation announced last week it will seek a reduction in the maximum allowable somatic cell count for raw milk under the Pasteurized Milk Ordinance at the next meeting of the National Conference on Interstate Milk Shipments beginning April 28, 2011, in Baltimore.

The proposed cut from the current 750,000 limit that has been in effect since July 1, 1993, to just 400,000 over a three-year period may look big, but the reality is that most dairies are already there.

NMPF's plan calls for phasing in the reduction: to 600,000 on January 1, 2012, to 500,000 a year later, and to 400,000 a year after that. The cuts would make U.S. milk quality standards among the most stringent in the world and equal to those in the European Union.

Fortunately, most dairies in the U.S. already easily meet the proposed lower standard. According to the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, milk weighted average bulk tank SCC in the U.S. in 2009 was 227,000 and 75 percent of all milk shipments were under 400,000.

NMPF President and CEO Jerry Kozak likes the proposal's chances. "I think it's extremely likely this will happen," he said. "I have no doubt that because the industry itself, the producer side, is going to go to the NCIMS meeting with a transitional plan to get to 400,000, that the state health authorities are going to embrace it and the Food and Drug Administration itself is going to eventually endorse it."