Last month, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) changed its Oil Spill Prevention, Control and Countermeasures (SPCC) rule to exempt milk and dairy products. This means that dairy operations will no longer have to prepare plans for handling spilled milk in the same way that oil companies must prepare for an oil spill.

While working on the rule update, EPA team turned to USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) to get a better understanding of the dairy industry in the United States. Since NASS gathers information directly from U.S. dairy farmers and milk facilities on a monthly basis, the agency was able to provide a comprehensive overview of the U.S. dairy sector.

The information NASS provided to EPA included numbers of dairy farms and dairy manufacturing facilities as well as the types and volumes of products made. In addition, NASS’s dairy specialists gave the environmental agency an overview of current rules and regulations governing the dairy industry and explained how dairies generally operate.

Partly as a result of this collaboration, on April 12, EPA finalized the exemption for all milk and dairy products, including cheeses, yogurts and ice cream. This rule change was welcomed by dairy operators and many dairy industry stakeholder groups across the United States.

This change also highlighted the importance of NASS’s relationship with U.S. dairy farmers and operators of milk processing facilities. By working together with representatives of the dairy sector, NASS was able to paint an objective picture of the industry, relying solely on the information provided by the operators themselves.

Going forward, NASS will continue to work with dairy operators, to ensure that only the most current and accurate information is available. The dairy data NASS gathers are released in the monthly Milk Production and Dairy Products reports and the annual Farms, Land in Farms and Livestock Operations report.