A new independent laboratory facility is to play an important future role in the dairy standard environment. For some time, concerns have been raised regarding the absence of a standardised system at national level, for the calibration of laboratory instruments used for the testing of raw milk and dairy products.

The dairy industry came together on this matter and after a rigorous process of investigation and industry consulting, the Dairy Standard Agency (DSA) has set up a fully equipped independent laboratory facility, DSA Lab Services, for the production and supply of harmonised standards for the calibration of laboratory instruments. This laboratory will be officially opened on 22 May 2019.

The process

As industry members continued to raise concerns over the technical barriers and industry disputes caused by the absence of such a standardised system, the industry came together to hold an industry-wide workshop in September 2017, which began the process that culminated in the establishment of the DSA Lab Services.

During this workshop industry members and stakeholders supported the idea of the establishment of an independent and sustainable laboratory for the supply of calibration samples to industry and to external accredited laboratories. The meeting led to the establishment of a technical workgroup consisting of industry expertise tasked to address the development of an independent infrastructure.

The clear purpose staked out for the workgroup was to find a solution that will set harmonised standards for the analysis of raw milk parameters namely fat, protein, lactose, milk urea nitrogen (MUN) and somatic cell counts (SCC), and that the investigation into the establishment of a milk ring test programme and proficiency testing scheme should also be explored.

It took the workgroup about a year to consult the industry players, run an industry survey and research the design and requirements of an independent laboratory.

The next step was a formal project application via the DSA board to Milk SA. The application focused on the establishment of an independent laboratory, imported standards (SCC and MUN) and nationally produced standards for fat, protein and lactose.

The application was positively received and resulted in a start-up capital grant from Milk SA for the establishment of the laboratory. This led to procurement of equipment and appointment of laboratory personnel and set up of systems. The DSA, as a non-profit organisation, will operate the independent laboratory on a cost recovery basis and ‘user pays’ principle.

Finding the appropriate standard

 DSA laboratory services is now progressing with the development of laboratory standard operating procedures aligned with the ISO/SANS 17025. A follow up meeting with the technical workgroup and additional industry experts on 7 February this year focused on the decision between the import of MUN and SCC standards from either Qlip (Netherlands) or Actalia – Cecalait (France). The meeting agreed that, for the purpose of the South African dispensation and in support of the existing herd health management data and programmes, Qlip standards would be used as the organised dairy industry’s national standards for the calibration of equipment for MUN and SCC.

At the meeting it was agreed that the use of the preferred Qlip standard as a national calibration standard for SCC would not mean that the use of any other standard from an internationally accredited facility such as Actalia-Cecalait would be seen as inferior in any way. This is important considering the possibility of parties that may intend to declare disputes, and consider litigation, against milk buyers and external laboratories who make use of validated reference standards for calibration of measuring equipment such as Actalia-Cecalait, which render less conservative results, impacting on quality payment for raw milk.

The rationale for the choice of the imported SCC Qlip standard was based on what is deemed in the best interests of the South African dairy industry regarding herd health management as well as continuation and maintenance of critical statistical data of importance for further research and development.

The current development of the international Gold Standard for SCC which will be internationally available and will be used as a global reference was also discussed. The anticipated date of availability of the Gold Standard is however not known at this stage. The industry agreed that no more time should be wasted waiting for the gold standard, which may evidently prolong the current detrimental situation of SSC calibration of measuring equipment in the South African dairy industry. The lab will be run by the DSA.

For more information contact Jompie Burger at 083 966 3827 or jompie@dairystandard.co.za