Federal and state authorities today released a nationwide study of the accuracy of net content labeling of milk. The report, a follow-up to a 1997 study, shows that there has been considerable improvement compared to last year. The 1997 study found that compliance with labeling requirements was very mixed and in need of improvement -- 45 percent of the groups of milk packages inspected contained less product than stated on their labels. This year, in a study that included twice as many participants and inspections, only 19 percent failed due to short-filling. According to the 1998 report, "Milk: Does It Measure Up? -- One Year Later," federal, state and local officials worked closely with industry members, providing assistance and training over the past year. This effort has resulted in increased accuracy in net content labeling, the report says.
The study was conducted by the staff of the Federal Trade Commission, Food and Nutrition Service at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) at the Department of Commerce, in coordination with the Office of Food Labeling at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
The inspections, which were conducted by weights and measures officials in 44 states, as well as Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, used an inspection procedure adopted by the National Conference on Weights and Measures (NCWM). The 46 jurisdictions conducted 3,355 inspections of milk in 1,338 schools, institutions, retail stores and dairies. According to the report, 83 percent of the 1,775 inspections of milk at schools this year passed inspection. At hospitals, universities and other institutions, 72 percent passed. Of the 1,309 inspections of milk in retail stores, wholesalers, packaging plants and dairies, 81 percent passed inspection this year. "From 1997 to 1998, the approval rate for half-pint containers increased from 47.9 percent to 81.4 percent," the report states. "This increased approval rate is significant because it is the size container most often served with school meals, and most heavily tested in both."
The report also points out that "[a]lthough the 1998 study shows an overall reduction in short-filling problems compared to last year, compliance levels at some packers and dairies remain low. Industry members that fail to pay sufficient attention to their packaging processes run the risk of government enforcement actions with the possibilities of fines, exclusions from government contracts, and government mandates to change their practices."
"The FTC is pleased with the results of this year's study," said Jodie Bernstein, Director of the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection. "We are particularly gratified that such improvement is the result of a coordinated effort between public officials and private industry. A reduction in inspection failures indicates that packaging practices have improved. Consumers will benefit as such improvements help reduce economic losses."
The FTC, through its Bureau of Consumer Protection, protects consumers from deceptive or unfair practices in the marketing and labeling of products and services.
"This study marks the first time that federal agencies, 44 states and two territories have looked cooperatively at net content labeling of any consumer commodity. This approach demonstrates that we have effective measurement tools for ensuring equity in the marketplace. NIST's Office of Weights and Measures will continue to work with industry representatives and state weights and measures officials to help solve underfilling problems which remain in the dairy industry," says Raymond G. Kammer, Director of NIST.
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 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 packages of goods conforms to federal and state legal requirements for net content declarations.
"I'm especially pleased to note that the compliance rate went up by more than 35 percentage points for milk supplied to schools, and that the Food and Nutrition Service was able to assist the FTC and NIST in this important survey," said Shirley R. Watkins, Under Secretary of Agriculture for Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services. "It's critical for schools to know that the foods they serve -- including milk -- meet quality control standards and specifications to ensure they are not shorted and they are getting the best quality buy for our customers, the children."
Food and Nutrition Service oversees the food assistance programs at USDA. The National School Lunch Program serves about 26 million children in over 94,000 schools, and the School Breakfast Program provides school breakfasts to over 7 million children. USDA regulations require that eight ounces of milk be offered with every subsidized school breakfast or lunch.
The study outlines the inspections by jurisdiction, type of establishment, disposition and number of inspections. According to the report, each inspection involved testing a random sample of packages drawn from a group of packages referred to as an "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. At many of the inspection sites, multiple inspection lots were tested, the report points out. For an inspection lot to be approved, the quantity of contents of packaged goods from the inspection sample must meet two requirements under the testing protocol used. First, the contents of the random sample of packages must, on average, not fall significantly below the quantity declared on the label. Second, no individual sample package may be under-filled by more than a pre-specified unreasonable amount, as defined in the test procedures. This means, for example, that for an inspection lot of 400 one-gallon containers 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 was under-filled by more than 2 l/2 fluid ounces. Both studies found that rejected lots were, on average, short-filled by a very small amount, and approved lots were, on average, over-filled by a very small amount.
Over 6.41 billion gallons of fluid milk were sold in 1997, USDA said. 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 the studies and would establish specific procedures for checking conformance of food packages (other than meat and poultry) with net content labeling requirements. The proposed FDA rule would establish a nation-wide procedure for checking net content declarations and if made final would codify existing state 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.
A major goal of both studies is to inform industry of any short-filling problems and to provide information that will enable industry members to examine and, where necessary, reform their packaging practices, the report notes. According to the report, USDA will contact dairies and packers that were identified through the 1998 study as having supplied schools with milk packages that failed to meet net content labeling requirements. Companies that provided short-filled product to schools will be required to provide restitution to schools and initiate corrective actions to prevent recurrence of short-filling.
The report concludes by stating that "[i]n the future, federal, state and local officials will continue to monitor the accuracy of net content disclosures, and to bring enforcement actions or take other corrective measures if significant problems with short-filling are found."
The jurisdictions conducting inspections included: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Puerto Rico, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, U.S. Virgin Islands, Utah, Vermont, Washington, West Virginia, and Wisconsin.
The FTC vote to authorize release of the report was 4-0.
Copies of the study, "Milk: Does It Measure Up? -- One Year Later," and a 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 participants 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-HELP (202-382-4357); TTY for the hearing impaired 1-866-653-4261. To find out the latest news as it is announced, call t.he FTC NewsPhone recording at 202-326-2710. FTC news releases, related documents and other materials also are available on the FTC's web site.