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AUGUSTA, Maine -- The Maine Milk Commission, a consumer watchdog group that ensures the price of milk is not set unfairly low, has entered into a consent agreement with West Bridgewater, Mass.-based Shaw's, fining the grocer $5,000 for violations that occurred in January and constituted the chain's third offense in five years, according to published reports.
"If someone offers milk at less than the minimum price set by the Maine Milk Commission, that puts other brands at a disadvantage," noted MMC director Stanley Millay in the Bangor, Maine Daily News. A price war could result without the minimum-price regulation, Millay said.
When contacted by PG, Shaw's officials were unavailable for comment on the issue.
The MMC, an appointed board, meets once a month by state statute to set minimum wholesale and retail prices. They must reflect the lowest prices at which milk can be received, processed, packaged, and distributed at a just and reasonable return. The prices set depend on such national and local conditions as Maine farmers' higher cost of production than other dairy farmers in New England.
According to Julie Marie Bickford, director of the Maine Dairy Industry Association, the benefit for consumers from the MMC's efforts is that the state's shoppers regularly pay the lowest prices for milk in the United States.
According to the MMC, Shaw's first sold milk below the minimum price in an Augusta store in November 1999. The company was informed but no enforcement action was pursued or punishment imposed. Further violations occurred in November 2002, January 2004, and January 2005, after the last of which Shaw's paid a $2,000 penalty that was suspended after the 2004 violation.
At its June 17 meeting, the commission voted to have Maine assistant attorney general Lucinda White and Millay draft a consent agreement including a $5,000 suspended penalty that would be in effect for two years. If no further violations occur during that time, any subsequent violations by Shaw's would be dealt with without reference to prior violations, explained Millay. A final vote on the agreement will take place at the MMC's July 22 meeting.