3 challenges

Healthy milk

Healthy milk is fit for consumption, meeting European food safety standards.

Its germ and somatic cell content must not exceed the maximum levels allowed by regulation. These are key indicators of farming hygiene and cattle health.

The absence of antibiotic residues is also rigorously controlled.


Milk fit for all kinds of processing

Wherever raw milk is produced and collected in France, the same testing and analysis principles are applied to determine its composition and quality. Extra criteria may be required in some cases (e.g., for PDO status).

The composition of milk varies between herds and their diets. It may be standardized, since milk is transformed into a wide variety of dairy products after collection.

Continuity in the quality chain

To ensure consumer satisfaction, the dairy quality chain starts at the farm and continues right to the store. This involves an unbroken cold chain, strict quality control of milk and dairy products, and traceability measures..

What is quality milk?

Precise criteria for milk composition and quality

Milk is healthy and meets rigorous European food safety standards. The price of milk price paid to the farmer depends on its hygiene and safety features, as well as its fat and protein content.

Milk quality criteria

  • Fat = 38 g/L
  • Protein = 32 g/L
  • Germs < 100,000 CFU/mL
  • Cells < 400,000 /mL
  • Antibiotic residues: absence
  • Freezing point: no added water

Milk controlled at each stage of the dairy value chain

To ensure consumer satisfaction, the dairy quality chain starts at the farm and continues in the factory.

Quality starts with farming
The French Charter for Good Agricultural Practices

(since 1999)

A voluntary approach covering six key areas of farming

Quality control
  • Traceability and identification
  • Herd health
  • Diet
  • Milk quality and safety control (milk payments)
  • Welfare and safety
  • Environment
Milk collection under high surveillance
Managing the cold chain

Storing milk in a refrigerated tank and transporting it in a refrigerated lorry

Many controls
  • A sample of milk is taken to analyse its composition and quality in an interbranch laboratory. In 1969, the French Godefroy Law introduced quality-based milk payments.
  • Random milk quality controls
The interbranch laboratory delivers a “quality passport”.
Transporting and registering samples
  • Transporting samples in a cool box and storing them in a cold room
  • Registering samples to ensure traceability
Analyses and results
  • Analyses of milk quality: composition, hygiene and safety
  • Next-day processing and sending of results to the farmer and the dairy through an online tool: INFOLABO.
Processing under high surveillance
Controls upon arrival at the dairy
  • Cold chain management: refrigerated tankers
  • Milk quality control at delivery: samples taken systematically for analysis
  • Traceability: samples of collected milk are kept for each tanker arriving at the factory
Safety procedure
  • Introduction of a health management plan: Charter for Good Agricultural Practices, Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP), traceability, numerous controls and analyses, and management of non-compliant products
  • Official controls: validation and verification of the food safety control plan
  • Official certification of the factory
Quality right up to the store
Maintaining quality in the store

Cold chain management: transporting dairy products in refrigerated lorries and storing them in cold rooms.

Best practices
  • Using gloves to handle products
  • Product inspection
  • Quality audits
A la ferme
La collecte
Au laboratoire
A l'usine
En magasin

New quality criteria in the future?

Nowadays, researchers are able to analyse the composition of milk very precisely and assess its nutritional value.

For example, they can quantify the different types of fats (omega-3, omega-6, etc.) and proteins (alpha and beta caseins, etc.).

Will these nutritional and health criteria be included in milk analyses on farms in the future? 

Work carried out by INRA

Who controls milk quality?

The journey of a milk sample

Milk quality is highly controlled. Samples are systematically taken at the farm and the dairy before being analysed in laboratories.

Itinéraire d'un échantillon d'analyse de lait

The role of French interbranch laboratories

Key figures (2016)

  • 24.6 billion litres of milk collected
  • 13 laboratories
  • 120 million analyses
       - Milk payment (herds) 
       - Milk controls (per cow)
       - Animal health
       - Various analyses
  • 250 analyses per farm annually (milk payment)

Created after the 1969 French Godefroy law on quality-based milk payments.

A guarantee of independence: these laboratories are co-managed by representatives of milk farmers and buyers (private companies and cooperatives).

Main mission: to ensure ongoing quality control for milk provided by farmers to dairies, by conducting analyses of its composition and quality, which are used as a basis for payment.
In addition: a wide range of analyses are carried out to control quality in farms and dairies (animal health, water quality, etc.)

French interbranch laboratories are accredited by the Ministry of Agriculture for their milk-payment analysis operations. CNIEL coordinates and standardizes implementation of the analysis methods used.

The importance of analysis methods

Evolving methods

Dairy professionals are improving their analysis methods to exploit scientific progress and boost their effectiveness.

They are also exploring new criteria; for example, a detailed analysis of milk composition linked to nutritional values (fat, protein, etc.)


All the analysis methods conform to standards set at a national, European and even international level.

The French dairy industry closely monitors the work of the national organization for standardization (AFNOR) and the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) in particular.

Proven results

Milk quality control: a long story!

From the Middle Ages...
  • Around 1385, a law condemned so-called “mouilleurs de lait”, unscrupulous farmers and merchants who added water to milk to artificially increase its volume.
  • In 1777, a royal decree banned dairies from using copper pots to avoid contamination by verdigris, considered unhealthy.
  • In the middle of 19th century, a decision was made to set up cowsheds in town centres to better guarantee milk freshness, given the sharp increase in consumption by booming urban populations.


... To the present day!
1969 Loi Godefroy
1969 : une loi française instaure le paiement du lait à la qualité

Les acteurs de la filière laitière décident ensemble des critères de qualité qui déterminent le prix du lait. Les premiers critères retenus sont la richesse en matière grasse et une teneur en germes maîtrisée.
Pour déterminer la qualité du lait, des échantillons sont prélevés à chaque collecte et analysés dans des laboratoires...

1970 Laboratoires interprofessionnels
1970 : création des laboratoires interprofessionnels indépendants

Dans les années 70, des laboratoires interprofessionnels indépendants sont créés pour permettre des analyses fiables. Ainsi, l'évaluation de la qualité est objectivée et s'applique sur l'ensemble du territoire.
Le CNIEL, créé en 1973, a pour mission d'assister les laboratoires et de contrôler l'harmonisation des méthodes d'analyse....

1977 Critères qualité
1977 : de nouveaux critères de qualité

Au fil du temps, la filière a décidé d'instaurer de nouveaux critères de composition et de qualité hygiénique et sanitaire du lait.

Critères recherchés pour la qualité technologique et nutritionnelle :

  • Matière grasse : 38 g/L
  • Matière protéique : 32 g/L

Critère pour la qualité sanitaire :

  • Germes : < 100 000 UFC/ml
1999 Charte Bonnes pratiques d'élevage
1999 : la Charte des bonnes pratiques d'élevage

Initiée par la Fédération Nationale Bovine (FNB) et la Fédération Nationale des Producteurs de Lait (FNPL), la Charte des bonnes pratiques est une démarche professionnelle soutenue par le CNIEL.
C'est un outil d’auto-évaluation qui aide les éleveurs à progresser et améliorer la qualité de leur lait.
En 2013, près de 95% des...

2013 Critères qualité
2013 : les critères d'aujourd'hui

Aujourd’hui, les critères analysés de manière obligatoire  sont :

  • La teneur en germes totaux
  • Le nombre de cellules somatiques
  • L’absence de résidus d’antibiotiques
  • La composition en matières grasse et protéique
  • Le point de congélation (absence d’eau ajoutée accidentellement)

Autres critères facultatifs, mais couramment réalisés :

  • La teneur en spores butyriques (indicateur d’hygiène de traite)
  • La...
1969 Loi Godefroy
1969 : une loi française instaure le paiement du lait à la qualité
1970 Laboratoires interprofessionnels
1970 : création des laboratoires interprofessionnels indépendants
1977 Critères qualité
1977 : de nouveaux critères de qualité
1999 Charte Bonnes pratiques d'élevage
1999 : la Charte des bonnes pratiques d'élevage
2013 Critères qualité
2013 : les critères d'aujourd'hui

A quality process that produces results

Over the years, the content of milk has improved. Milk produced in French farms now contains more protein and less fat. The quantity of germs has also dropped noticeably since the 1970s, demonstrating excellent food safety today.

Milk's fat and protein content

Evolution of fat and protein in milk

The number of germs in milk

Graphique germes


World-class quality expertise in France

The French dairy industry’s renowned milk quality expertise, at both a scientific and technical level, enables France to play an influential role in the development of international food standards.

In this way, France, as a member of the International Dairy Federation (IDF), has actively contributed to the Milk and Milk Products Committee of the Codex Alimentarius, set up by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization and the World Health Organization to develop these standards.

France is responsible, for example, for the regulatory definition of milk, which prevents plant-based juices (e.g., soya) from using the term.


What is the Codex Alimentarius?