Talk of the bay: Publix stores make natural choice for milk

By Times Staff
Published May 1, 2007

Bowing to rising consumer health concerns, Publix Super Markets Inc. banned synthetic growth hormones from its entire line of store-brand milk effective today. Publix brands from whole milk to fat free to chocolate are affected, but customers will not pay a premium for it as they do for several organic brands. The Lakeland grocer now requires dairy farmers in the southeast Florida cooperative that supplies the 901-store chain's dairy plants with its milk to sign statements they have not injected herds with the bioengineered growth hormone rbST. The FDA has approved use of the hormone since 1994. The hormone boosts a typical dairy cow's production by 10 percent, or about 10 pounds of milk daily, but critics say it shortens cows' lives and might have side effects. Publix will change its milk labels to "all natural" and eliminate its Greenwise line as duplicative. Publix will not promote its brand as "growth hormone free" because the FTC has ruled all cows have natural growth hormones, so that would be misleading advertising.

Universal case goes court-hopping

In Universal Health Care Insurance Co.'s ongoing saga to avoid liquidation of its Any, Any, Any Medicare plan, the state's Department of Financial Services has asked a federal judge to return the case to Leon County circuit court. "This matter represents Universal's second effort in a matter of weeks to use this court to block the efforts of Florida insurance regulators in discharging their statutory duties, " the motion reads, adding that St. Petersburg-based Universal sought in March to stop regulators from placing the plan into receivership. A federal judge denied that request. Regulators have maintained for two months that Universal is in violation of Florida law by not having sufficient reserves to pay claims for its Any, Any, Any plan.

New-home starts hammered again

The Tampa Bay area's new-home market is flashing back to 1998. Pasco, Hillsborough and Hernando counties, where most of the industry is concentrated, posted 2, 297 housing starts in the first quarter of 2007, a 62.8 percent drop from last year's 6, 167. It's the lowest single-family home count since 1998. Meanwhile, new-home closings fell 32 percent from a year earlier. The numbers come from Metrostudy, which tracks the local new-home market. Metrostudy ranked the three best-selling neighborhoods: Bay Park in Hillsborough, Sterling Hill in Hernando and Meadow Pointe in Pasco.