A western Montana lawmaker who has been in the grocery business for 30 years wants to overturn a rule that requires milk be removed from Montana grocery store shelves 12 days after it is pasteurized.
Republican Rep. Greg Hertz of Polson is sponsoring House Bill 399, which would eliminate the "sell-by" date required on milk packaging and allow producers to stamp milk with a "use-by" date that is typically 21 days after milk is pasteurized, The Independent Record reports.
Hertz said the change would lead to less waste and lower milk prices. His bill was scheduled to be heard by the House Human Services Committee on Wednesday.
Under the current rule, "retailers are forced to throw away perfectly good milk," said Hertz, the CEO of Moody's Markets, which operates Super 1 Foods in Polson and Harvest Foods in three other towns. "For every gallon of milk a retailer disposes of he may have to sell five to 10 gallons of milk to cover the cost of that one gallon. The math is there to understand how that increases the cost of milk."
The Montana Livestock Board has rejected efforts by milk distributor Core-Mark International to change the rule. The Montana Supreme Court ruled last July that the board properly exercised its rulemaking authority.
Core-Mark has argued that most states allow milk processors to set a "best if used by" date.
For a time, processors were allowed to stamp milk sold in Montana with both a "sell-by" and "use-by" date, but the Livestock Board rescinded the "dual-dating" exemption that allowed Core-Mark to comply with laws in several states.
"There have been a number of individuals working on this for the last six or seven years and they've been frustrated by the Department of Livestock," Hertz said. "The department has not been willing to work with them. The last resort is to use legislation to force them to change."
Core-Mark spokesman Mark Huelskamp describes the Livestock Board as a "rogue" board of dairy farmers making rules for themselves.
"They're trying to not let anyone else bring milk into Montana so they can keep the price high," Huelskamp charged. Montana grocery stores "end up throwing away a perfectly good product," he said.
Jeff Lewis, a dairy farmer and Livestock Board member said: "You can look at it this way: If you want all your milk brought in from Idaho where there are thousands and thousands of dairy cows, that's an option. Or, we can try and make sure our dairy farmers stay in business."
Lewis said grocery stores know how much milk they sell and that those that end up with out-of-date milk have a "supply management problem."