NPE-Free moves us from good to better
IODINE-based dips are the predominant germicide for teat disinfection in the dairy industry. Though iodine has long been valued for its disinfecting qualities, it is a mineral that does not easily dissolve. To use it as a disinfectant, another compound must be added to improve iodine’s solubility and keep it in suspension. This component has traditionally been nonylphenol ethoxylate (NPE).
In its pure form, NPEs cause irritation to human skin and eyes. However, most research reports indicate that there is less concern when it is mixed into solutions. The main concern with NPEs in milk is the known effect on endocrine disruption. Downstream, NPEs mimic natural hormones in aquatic life and mammals.
Importers don’t want it
Use of NPE in teat dips is allowed under U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulations. However, a 1 percent iodine teat dip with NPE would be expected to contribute up to about 800 to 1,000 parts per billion (ppb) residue in milk. Recently, China banned all imported milk with NPE residue of 10 ppb or more. To put this into perspective, that is equivalent to finding 10 people in the entire country of China. The decision is tantamount to a “zero tolerance” approach based on the limitations of current analytical methods to detect NPEs.
This also allows China to continue the significant price differentiation between imported and domestically produced milk, since imported milk is perceived to be of higher quality. The NPE limit on imports helps to maintain this perception. Significantly, NPEs are not banned from use within China. Nevertheless, U.S. milk processors that export to China, or plan to do so, must go NPE-free to meet this new condition.
Most processors have limited capability to select fluid milk suppliers or to segregate products within their facilities. This has forced many to institute a complete ban on the use of NPEs by their suppliers. Since the beginning of the Chinese NPE ban in 2014, most cooperatives nationwide have sent letters asking their members to switch to teat dips without NPEs. As recently as last September, milk processors have demanded their producers supply NPE-free milk.
Unfortunately, due to the relatively short notice, many producers turned to unproven teat dips. New iodine formulations came into the market and, though some proved effective, others showed problems with quality, including teat irritation. In comparison, some formulations have been NPE-free for decades, and their effectiveness and gentleness are well documented. As producers struggle to meet these new demands, a careful evaluation of their options should include the length of time that an NPE-free teat dip has been on the market.
The same manufacturers that had formulation concerns early on, created confusion by spreading the word that NPE-free iodine teat dips might be less effective. Producers should challenge those claims as some NPE-free iodine products have been on the market for up to 30 years and are supported with clinical efficacy trials. However, when dealing with newly reformulated products, users should request proof of product efficacy.
While there are no current regulations from either the FDA or the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency banning the use of NPE teat dips, or no-rinse CIP sanitizers containing NPE, restrictions by major milk processors will continue to impact the marketplace. Additionally, consumers are more willing to voice concerns regarding their food supply than at any other point in time. Their perception, right or wrong, will continue to dictate demand as there is always another choice available.
Anxieties associated with NPE residue could affect a considerable portion of the U.S. dairy market regardless of trade restrictions. By proactively removing a compound that has environmental concerns, the dairy industry will be seen as promoting social responsibility. Since milk is often viewed as a wholesome beverage, anything that further improves its image will benefit the industry as a whole.
As producers continue to adapt to NPE restrictions, they should remember that, in the long run, this change will have a positive impact. This is not a case of switching from bad to good, but rather from good to better
Tom Hemling is the global director of research and development for DeLaval’s milk quality and animal health division.
Used by permission from the March 10, 2016, issue of Hoard’s Dairyman.Copyright 2016 by W.D. Hoard & Sons Company, Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin.