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State pleased that milk sell-by rule upheld in California company's challenge

2013-08-13T00:00:00Z State pleased that milk sell-by rule upheld in California company's challengeBy MIKE DENNISON IR State Bureau Helena Independent Record
August 13, 2013 12:00 am  • 

A Montana livestock official said Monday he’s pleased that a judge upheld the state’s system of dating retail milk, and that the “sell-by” date of 12 days after pasteurization puts more power and knowledge in the hands of consumers.

Yet the company that sued can continue to stamp its own expiration date on its milk sold in Montana if Friday’s court decision is appealed to the Montana Supreme Court, said Christian Mackay, executive officer for the state Board of Livestock.

Core-Mark International, a food distributor based in California, challenged Montana’s sell-by date in court last year, saying individual milk processors should be able to stamp their own expiration date on their milk.

The expiration date is a more accurate deadline for when the milk goes bad, as opposed to Montana’s rule, which tells consumers only when the milk has been pasteurized, they said.

District Judge Mike Menahan of Helena rejected Core-Mark’s lawsuit on Friday, saying there was conflicting information on whether expiration dates or Montana’s sell-by dates was fairer to consumers and producers.

He said the Montana Department of Livestock was in the best position to decide the rule, and that since the board didn’t act illegally or arbitrarily in confirming the 33-year-old rule last year, its decision should not be overturned.

“We’re obviously pleased that the judge upheld the board’s decision and saw that the board did go through the proper process,” Mackay said Monday. “The real winners are the consumers of Montana.”

Mackay said the 12-day rule tells consumers when the milk has been pasteurized and lets them decide whether they want to buy it. Milk often remains drinkable for at least a few days after the sell-by date, he said.

The Montana Milk Producers Association and one of Montana’s largest processors, Meadow Gold, joined the state in fighting the Core-Mark lawsuit.

Attorneys for Core-Mark in Missoula did not return messages asking whether the company plans to appeal the ruling.

If Core-Mark does appeal, it will continue to have an exemption that allows it to stamp both the sell-by date and its own expiration date on milk it markets in Montana, from a dairy in Spokane, Wash. Core-Mark markets Darigold Milk, distributing to convenience stores and small groceries across Montana.

Core-Mark and its predecessor, Inland Dairies of Spokane, have been allowed to use both dates since 2002. The state acted to revoke the privilege in 2008, but after Core-Mark sued, the state agreed to allow the dual-dating until the company’s legal action is completed.

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