Speakers at NMC meeting emphasize technology, research

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The 41st annual meeting of the National Mastitis Council provided information on new and exciting opportunities in the areas of mastitis control and prevention. More than 400 attendees enjoyed the presentations and festivities at the meeting, Feb. 3-6 in Orlando, Fla.

Year in review
Program Chair Steve Nickerson welcomed the participants and introduced Gary Heinrich, president of the NMC, who provided an update on NMC activities. Heinrich stated that the international efforts of NMC are continuing. The NMC is reviewing information that is communicated and the materials that will be translated into Spanish to ensure that they are accurate and relevant. The decision to decrease the size of the NMC board of directors to 15 members has placed more importance on the various NMC committees. Finally, the NMC was unsuccessful in its efforts to decrease the legal limit for the number of somatic cell counts in milk at the National Conference on Interstate Milk Shipments. This setback, however, caused the NMC to take a hard look at the issue of SCC and milk quality.

Mastitis prevention goes high tech
John Bramley, PhD (Burlington, Vt.), presented the keynote address, "Is there a role for transgenics in udder health?" He described feats achieved in genetic engineering that could profoundly impact the dairy industry and mastitis prevention. The lysostaphin project, for example, resulted in the production of the lysostaphin gene and Annie, a transgenic cow.

If successful, incorporation of the lysostaphin genome could help protect cows against intramammary infection with Staphylococcus aureus. Although it appears that the scientific techniques exist to produce transgenic cattle that have increased resistance to mastitis, the public debate on the health and safety of these procedures and the products obtained from genetically altered animals will have a major influence on the acceptance and applicability of this technology.

One of the sessions provided information on the periparturient period of cows and the effects that various factors such as nutrition and management during this stressful period have on the immune system of cattle.

In another session, speakers discussed the use of vaccines developed against pathogenic bacteria to prevent or treat mastitis in dairy cows.

Amid all the information about antigens and antibodies and bacterial cultures, several speakers provided details of the management techniques they use in their daily operations to minimize stress on dairy cattle so that the cattle will remain healthy and produce high-quality milk.

Changes in SCC limits
One of the major projects the NMC will undertake in the upcoming year involves the issue of SCC and the public perception of a safe food supply. The NMC has contended that a decrease of the SCC limits to 400,000 cells/ml of milk would improve the health of dairy cattle and promote safety of dairy products intended for human consumption. Others have believed that the current limits of 750,000 cells/ml provide a safe food product and that additional reductions in SCC limits are only for economic or marketing reasons.

The debate over the acceptable limit of SCC may be raising concerns about the safety of our milk supply in the minds of U.S. consumers. Therefore, a task force has been formed to evaluate the NMC stance on this topic and provide guidance.

The NMC hopes to include members of regulatory agencies and milk cooperatives as well as those involved in research and veterinary medicine in its quest to provide dairy consumers with a wholesome product.

Additional highlights
There were 236 attendees who participated in the record five NMC short courses. Attendees also took advantage of the technology transfer sessions, which featured 46 poster presentations on topics related to mastitis and milk quality.

The National Quality Awards Program, in its second year under the NMC banner, drew 52 nominations. Jim Dickrell, Monticello, Minn., announced the four regional winners and the national winner, Meekhof Dairy in McBain, Mich.

The National Mastitis Research Foundation also was in the spotlight. Dr. Keith Sterner, Ionia, Mich., announced the presentation of the second research award. A grant in the amount of $7,500 was awarded to graduate student Dr. Fiona P. Maunsell and faculty member Mary B. Brown, PhD, Department of Pathobiology, College of Veterinary Medicine, University of Florida. The title of their research project is "Mycoplasma bovis mastitis: the influence of strain of organism on disease expression and localization within the mammary gland."

The auction held during the NMC reception was a gala affair. Dr. Jim Jarrett's fast-paced chatter loosened the purse strings of several bidders. The auction raised $2,900, which will be used to replenish the coffers of the National Mastitis Research Foundation.

New leaders
Gary Heinrich, Kalamazoo, Mich., was presented the Distinguished Service Award for his efforts on behalf of the NMC during his tenure as president. He introduced Steve Nickerson, PhD, Blacksburg, Va., as the next president. Dr. Nickerson serves as head of the Department of Dairy Science at Virginia Tech University.

Other officers elected at the annual business meeting were Dr. Andy Johnson, Seymour, Wis., first vice president; Dr. Leo Timms, Ames, Iowa, second vice president; Dr. Paul Rapnicki, St. Paul, Minn, secretary; and Dr. Pam Ruegg, Madison, Wis., treasurer.