Jan. 24 2012 08:46 AM

In its 51st year, the National Mastitis Council (NMC) annual meeting continues to look to the future. With the nation's somatic cell count effectively at 400,000 (at least for those with product that has a chance of exporting to Europe), NMC looks to what

The National Mastitis Council, after years of work and help from other parties, has seen its long-time goal of dropping somatic cell counts (SCC) to 400,000 come into effect.

However, the rules governing the change came from across the pond, as Matt McKnight of the U.S. Dairy Export Council (USDEC) taught us yesterday. This "limit" has actually been in place since 1993. It just took this long to ensure that Europe had its ducks in a row enough that it could explain the rules to our authoritative agency on the subject (USDA – Agricultural Marketing Service, in this case).

But McKnight, speaking in the 11:15 a.m. time slot yesterday, just touched on the 400,000 SCC issue from Europe. Then he gave us just a peek into what lies ahead for USDEC. He used the word "boring" to describe the work that he and his colleagues complete for dairy producers and processors many times throughout his 45-minute presentation. But we think in using the word "boring," he really meant to describe the "arcane" or even "unbelievable" hoops other countries make us jump through to get product to their territories.

One such example was the Customs Union, a joint trade unit of Russia, Kazakhstan, and Belarus. When McKnight asked for a raise of hands to see who had heard of the Customs Union from the crowd of 200 researchers, industry, and veterinary experts, not one was raised. The Customs Union currently has very strict import requirements for dairy products. So strict, in fact, that the SCC levels required are lower than CODEX export requirements. Codex is short for Codex Alimentarius Commission, a group established in 1963 by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the World Health Organization (WHO). In Latin, "Codex Alimentarius" means "book of food." It governs the minimum levels on all foods (safe levels and counts of many subjects) for international trade. The bottom line is, we have no good way to get many of our products into Russia.

McKnight continued on but was much more interesting than boring, explaining the intricate little things that add up to make exporting dairy products so difficult. He did pledge that USDEC would continue to make inroads. But, as we saw with the other attendees at NMC's 51st annual meeting, it just isn't as easy as it sounds.

He also promised there would be roadblocks. Tail docking could be an example of some country's future artificial trade barrier to the U.S. The fact is, the only way to sell to these customers is to comply with the requirements.