Got milk? It's cheaper in Salt Lake City than most big cities nationwide.

That's according to the first of a two-part study on milk prices by the U.S. General Accounting Office, a research arm of Congress.That first part simply reported basic data on milk prices in 28 large cities, and what types of middlemen are involved in moving and processing milk between the farm and retail stores. A later study will evaluate reasons behind price differences.

Among the 28 big cities studied in 1997, Salt Lake City had the third-lowest average retail price for a gallon of milk - $2.44.

Cities where average retail milk prices were cheaper were Phoenix ($2.43 a gallon) and Cincinnati ($1.81 a gallon).

Seattle had the most expensive average retail price in the nation at $3.15 a gallon.

The study reported that the announced price that cooperatives paid farmers for milk in Utah in 1997 was the lowest among areas studied - $1.17 per gallon on average. Of course, that is one reason why retail prices are also cheap in Utah.

Costs added by middlemen in Utah - such as retail stores, processing plants and cooperatives - more than doubled the price of that milk by the time it reached consumers.

Such costs added another $1.28 a gallon on average for milk sold in Salt Lake City - 14th highest among the 28 cities studied, putting it squarely in the middle of the pack on such mark-ups.

The lowest mark-ups by middlemen nationwide was 51 cents a gallon in Cincinnati. The highest mark-up was $1.97 a gallon in Seattle.

The study also noted that the average retail price of milk paid by Salt Lake consumers increased 41 cents a gallon (or 20 percent) between 1991 and 1997.

In that span, the price paid to farmers increased from $1.10 to $1.17 per gallon on average (a 6 percent increase). And mark-ups by middlemen increased from 93 cents to $1.28 a gallon (a 38 percent increase).