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Committee holds public hearing for milk sell-by date debate

Published On: Jan 27 2014 05:17:43 PM MST
Updated On: Jan 27 2014 06:20:12 PM MST
HELENA, Mont. -

An interim committee is trying to determine whether the legislature should step in to the battle over milk sell-by dates.

Noon's Marketing Manager Earl Allen came from Missoula to push for change. "It's an economic concern for retailers in the state," Allen said.

At issue is a sell-by date which says milk can only be sold up to 12 days after it was pasteurized.

"The 12-day rule really has no science behind it," Allen said.

It has been a rule for more than 30 years. The committee called experts from Cornell, experts who told them the law is outdated.

"There's standards that are out there and the processors have the abilities and expertise to meet those standards and say how long their milk is good for," Allen said.

Board of Livestock Executive Officer Christian McKay told us he doesn't disagree with the experts.

"And we never have disagreed," McKay said. "But when they start talking about the markets and consumers in Montana. That's where we think we know a little more about it than they do."

McKay told us if the rule changes to let dairy producers choose their own sell-by date, it will make things more confusing for customers.

"The rule has been put in place to give the consumer the most amount of time possible to consume the milk after they purchase it," said McKay.

But Allen told us most people think of a sell-by date as an expiration date.

"Not only do retailers have to dump milk ahead of time," said Allen. "Consumers see that sell-by date and they dump milk before it goes bad as well."

Critics said the sell-by date should be left up to the dairy producers. Depending on the producer, milk can be good up to 28 days after pasteurization. Montana is one of just 15 states that regulates milk labels.

We wanted to know how our milk prices compare to our neighbor states that don't regulate milk dating. According to the website Numbeo, which uses crowd-sourced data for cost of living, the average price of a gallon of milk in Montana ranged from $4.50 in Billings, to around $3.40 in Missoula, over a dollar difference between cities.

When we looked at Washington and Idaho, the prices were much more consistent. Idaho averaged between $2.89 and $2.92 a gallon. Washington averaged between $3.34 and $3.59 a gallon.