HELENA, Mont. (AP) — A Helena judge heard arguments Tuesday over a California-based food distributor's challenge of a rule that says milk sold in Montana must be stamped with a "sell-by" date of 12 days after it is pasteurized.
Core-Mark International argues consumers would be better informed with a "use-by" date set by the processor, while Montana's milk-producing industry supports the current rule.
District Judge Mike Menahan said he will issue a ruling after receiving written arguments, Lee Newspaper of Montana reported.
Core-Mark has been trying to overturn the sell-by rule for several years.
In 2008, the company filed a lawsuit in federal court trying to overturn the rule. Core-Mark agreed to drop the lawsuit if the state Department of Livestock held a hearing on the rule.
In 2011, an independent hearings officer said the rule should be scrapped because it results in the "waste and destruction of perfectly good milk" because it effectively prohibits milk from being sold for 43 percent of the time during which it is fresh and of good quality. A 21-day use-by date is common in other states.
However, the Board of Livestock decided a year ago to continue the sell-by date rule, after which milk must be pulled from the shelves.
Core-Mark, which distributes milk in Montana from a Spokane, Wash., dairy and milk processor, wants the state to allow processors to set their own use-by date based on their own testing.
"The (Montana) rule does nothing to provide the consumer with information to allow that person to determine whether the milk they are buying is expected to last 13 days or 21 days," attorney Trent Baker argued. "Wouldn't the consumer want to know that? Is my milk going to last another three days, or is it going to last another 10?"
Meadow Gold attorney Jock Anderson said the real reason Core-Mark wants to undo the rule is because its Spokane dairy supplier doesn't want to date stamp milk separately for sale in Montana.
"The irony of this case is that the state of Montana and 1 million milk customers are being demanded to change their regulations and purchasing habits because of the policies of an otherwise insignificant dairy in Spokane, Wash.," Anderson said.
Rob Stutz, an attorney for the Department of Livestock, said the Livestock Board's decision is within its authority and can only be invalidated if the decision is found to be "arbitrary and capricious."