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FTC: Milk consumers getting skimmed

grapgic July 17, 1997
Web posted at: 4:11 p.m. EDT (2011 GMT)

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The dairy industry is milking consumers a few ounces at a time by selling packages that contain less product than advertised, the Federal Trade Commission said Thursday.

In a recent study, federal and state agencies found that more than 40 percent of milk, juice and other dairy products inspected contained 1 to 6 percent less product than stated on the label, the FTC said.

While these amounts may be small per package, over time the shortages can be significant, the FTC said.

The study was undertaken in response to reports of "short-filling" of milk and juice from several states and will be used to educate businesses about the problem and help the industry reform its practices, according to the FTC.

"The prevalence of short-filling is troubling for everyone -- from consumers and school districts who quite reasonably expect to get what they pay for, to competitors who haven't skimped," said Diode Bernstein, director of the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection.

Jerry Kozak, senior vice president of the International Dairy Foods Association, said the industry was "fully committed" to fixing the problems uncovered by the study.

"We recognize that many different factors may have unintentionally contributed to the problems," Kozak said. "We plan to aggressively pursue a national education program ... which will help the industry gain a better understanding of the appropriate methods and procedures for determining the proper fill of containers."

The inspections, which were conducted by weights and measures officials in 20 states, revealed widespread occurrences of short-filling, according to a statement by the FTC.

The inspectors visited 512 universities, hospitals, schools, retailers, dairies and packaging plants and conducted 1,638 inspections of milk, other dairy products and juice.

Of the 858 inspections of milk and juice at universities, hospitals and schools, almost half, or 411, failed due to short-filling.

Of the 780 inspections of milk and other products in retail stores, packaging plants and dairies, almost a third, or 255, failed.

"Inadequate quality control in the packaging plants and a lack of strict oversight by manufacturers and distributors is the cause of many short-filling problems," the report said.

The inspections were conducted in 20 states, from Washington to Florida.

Officials tested "inspection lots," or groups of packages from the same packer with identical labels and expiration dates.

To pass inspection, the average package contents had to equal or exceed the amount stated on the label. Also, there could be no unreasonable variation in the contents of individual packages, the FTC said.

For example, an inspection lot of 200 gallons of milk would fail inspection if any one of the 12 randomly tested packages was under-filled by more than 2 fluid ounces, the report said.

Training sessions on good inspection, packaging and distribution practices will be offered. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has sent letters to 20,000 state food authorities that supply school meal programs, providing them with information on the study and how to avoid problems in the future.

Part of the FTC's responsibility is to protect consumers from deceptive or unfair practices in the marketing and labeling of products.

More than 6 billion gallons of milk was produced last year, resulting in more than $8 billion in revenue to dairy producers.

Federal agencies that participated in the study included the FTC, the USDA's Food and Consumer Service, the Commerce Department's National Institute of Standards and Technology and the Food and Drug Administration's Office of Food Labeling.


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