A federal/state study of "short-filling" of milk, other dairy products and juice found that over 40 percent of the groups of packages inspected contained less product than stated on their labels -- between 1 percent to 6 percent, according to a report released today by four federal agencies. The report, titled "Milk: Does It Measure Up?" was undertaken in response to reports of short-filling of milk and juice from several states and examines the accuracy of net content labeling of these products. The report will be used to educate businesses about the problem and to provide information that will help the industry examine and reform its practices.
The study was conducted by the staff of the Federal Trade Commission, Food and Consumer Service at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) in the Department of Commerce, in coordination with state and local weights and measures offices and in consultation with Office of Food Labeling at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
The inspections, which were conducted by weights and measures officials in 20 states, revealed widespread occurrences of short-filling. 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 one-half, 411, failed due to short-filling. Of the 780 inspections of milk and other products inspected in retail stores, packaging plants and dairies, almost one-third, 255, failed. According to the report, "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 states, chosen for broad geographical distribution, included: Alabama, California, Delaware, Florida, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Mississippi, Montana, New York, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Washington, West Virginia and Wisconsin.
"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 Jodie Bernstein, Director of the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection. "Now that we have a measure of the problem, we are confident packagers will use the report to examine and refine their packaging processes. In addition, a national industry education effort is already in the works. And other actions, such as additional inspections, are planned."
The FTC, through its Bureau of Consumer Protection, protects consumers from deceptive or unfair practices in the marketing and labeling of products and services.
"In addition to training state and local inspectors, NIST will train dairy industry representatives on measurements needed to prevent short-filling of milk containers," said Robert E. Hebner, Acting Director of NIST. "This study is an example of how NIST works with the states and industry to assure equity for buyers and sellers and a level playing field for companies who could not fairly compete against others who are underpacking their products."
NIST has the responsibility to assure that the United States has the measurements and standards system needed for orderly commerce. The Office of Weights and Measures at NIST works with the states to achieve uniformity in weights and measures standards, laws and practices. NIST works closely with the National Conference on Weights and Measures (NCWM), a voluntary standards organization of state weights and measures officials, industry representatives, consumers and federal officials. A NIST Handbook, developed by NCWM, serves as a procedural guide for industry as well as for state and local weights and measures officials when they investigate whether the stated net content on the package of goods conforms to federal and state legal requirements for net content declarations. NCWM's annual meeting will be held from July 20-24 in Chicago, Illinois.
"We are certainly very concerned at the implications of this study, both in terms of children getting the full benefit of their school meals and schools getting the full measure of the products they pay for," said Mary Ann Keeffe, Acting Under Secretary of Agriculture for Food, Nutrition, and Consumer Services. "USDA has been very active in monitoring vendors to ensure that they provide the products they contract for, and there are consequences for those who don't - including those found in this survey to be short-filling their cartons."
Food and Consumer Service oversees the food assistance programs at USDA. The National School Lunch Program serves about 26 million children in over 93,000 schools, and the School Breakfast Program provides school breakfasts to almost 6 ½ million children. USDA regulations require that eight ounces of milk be offered with every subsidized school breakfast or lunch.
The study summarizes the inspections by states, type of establishment and type of product. Inspections were conducted using the procedure developed by NCWM that is set out in the NIST Handbook. According to the report, each inspection involved testing a group of packages referred to as the "inspection lot," which consists of packages of the same product, in the same size, with the same label, from the same packer and with the same expiration date. For an inspection lot to be approved, the contents of packaged goods had to, on average, equal or exceed the amount of product stated on the label. In addition, there could not be any unreasonable variation in the amount of contents in individual packages. This means, for example, that for an inspection lot of 200 gallons of milk where a random sample of 12 packages had been selected for testing, the lot failed inspection if any one of the tested packages were under-filled by more than 2 ½ fluid ounces, the report states.
The study found that the amount of short-filling of any individual carton of milk or juice ranged from less than 1 percent to more than 6 percent. The report suggests that while these amounts may represent a small amount per individual package, the aggregate shortages can be significant over time.
Over six billion gallons of fluid milk were produced in 1996, resulting in more than $8 billion in revenues to dairy producers. While a number of federal and state agencies share jurisdiction over net content labeling of food products, labeling requirements are the same throughout the country. FDA has proposed a new rule that incorporates the inspection procedure used in this study and would serve to codify current state labeling requirements and inspection practices. The primary responsibility for ensuring the accuracy of food labeling rests with the state and local weights and measures officials who conduct inspections at every step in the process of manufacturing, distributing and selling packaged goods.
The report outlines a number of business education measures that will provide packaging plants and dairies with the necessary information to examine and correct, if necessary, their packaging procedures. Training sessions on good inspection, packaging and distribution practices will be offered. A "Facts for Business" pamphlet will be distributed to dairies, producers, packers, wholesalers, distributors and retailers across the country. A list of good quantity control practices is attached to the report and "provides step-by-step guidance for dairies and packagers that want to assess and improve their manufacturing practices." USDA 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.
The report concludes by stating that "[t]he government participants in this study are hopeful that increased public attention to the problem of short-filling and short-weighting will lead dairies and other packagers to examine and reform their packaging processes voluntarily."
While some states who participated in the study already have taken enforcement actions, "[a]dditional unannounced inspections of net content labeling of milk, juice and other foods may also take place. . . .In the future, federal, state and local officials will continue to coordinate their efforts to monitor the accuracy of net content disclosures, and may take enforcement actions if additional significant problems with short-filling are found."
Commenting on the report, Jerry Kozak, Senior Vice President of the International Dairy Foods Association, said, "We recognize that many different factors may have unintentionally contributed to the problems discovered by the survey. The dairy industry is fully committed to working with federal and state officials to rectify the situation. We plan to aggressively pursue a national education program in conjunction with the technical experts in the National Conference on Weights and Measures, which will help the industry gain a better understanding of the appropriate methods and procedures for determining the proper fill of containers. We are confident that this cooperative approach will serve to correct the problem."
Copies of the study, "Milk: Does It Measure Up?," and the Facts for Business brochure, "Measuring Up," are available on the Internet at the FTC's World Wide Web site at http://www.ftc.gov (no period). A list of Public Information Officers for partciipants in the Federal/State Dairy Survey is attached. News and general information on NIST are available on the World Wide Web at http://www.nist.gov (no period). Documents and brochures also are available from the FTC's Public Reference Branch, Room 130, 6th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20580; 202-326-2222; TTY for the hearing impaired 1-866-653-4261. To find out the latest news as it is announced, call the FTC NewsPhone recording at 202-326-2710. FTC news releases, related documents and other materials also are available on the FTC's web site.
Linda S. Joy
Public and Business Affairs Division
National Institute of Standards and Technology
301-975-2762 (Available on July 17 at 202-326-2180.)
Office of Public Affairs
Food and Consumer Service, USDA
Judith E. Foulke
Office of Public Affairs, FDA
(FTC File No. P954213)
Office of Public Affairs, FTC