MONTANA (March 29, 2010)—A controversy has erupted over the tiny date stamped on milk containers.
Core-Mark International Inc., a major food marketer and distributor, backed by some convenience stores and independent groceries, has asked the Montana state Board of Livestock to drop the regulation requiring a 12-day sell-by date on milk containers.
Since 1980, the state has required this sell-by date - also called a pull-by date - to be stamped on milk containers.
Under Core-Mark's proposal, Montana's current 12-day sell-by date would be replaced by one chosen by individual milk processors, which would determine the length of time needed to protect consumers. There would be no standardized date.
Core-Mark's proposal says, in part: "No Grade A pasteurized milk may be put in any container marked with a sell-by date which does not reasonably protect the health and safety of Montana consumers."
Officials from Core-Mark's Spokane office were unable to comment for the story because of a past "gag-order" agreement with the Livestock Board.
Advocates of the rule change say it would open the door for stores to buy more milk for lower prices, often from out of state. They say Montana consumers would reap the savings.
"It would be more competitive," said Jim Edwards, owner of Pattee Creek Market, an independent grocery in Missoula. "Me buying milk from Spokane is no different (in distance) than me buying from Bozeman. When we start bringing milk in across the border, it would bring down the price."
Edwards said the rule results in milk prices that are 50 cents to $1 a gallon higher in Montana. On Friday, a gallon of Country Class milk sold for $3.59 at Pattee Creek Market.
Stores also no longer would be forced to dump as much milk as they now do when the sell-by date has expired, he said. Several store owners estimated they routinely have to discard anywhere from 4 percent to 6 percent of their milk after 12 days.