Society

Dairy Farmers Killed Healthy Cows To Keep Prices High

| by Robert Fowler
Dairy cows lounging on the fieldDairy cows lounging on the field

A class action lawsuit has revealed that dairy farmers responsible for 70 percent of America's milk had been slaughtering cows well before their time.

A large collection of dairy cooperatives has paid a $52 million settlement to end a long-gestating antitrust class-action lawsuit. Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro LLP had filed the lawsuit in 2011, representing dairy consumers, The Huffington Post reports.

The defendants in the case included the lobbying group National Milk Producers Federation and a handful of dairy cooperatives who in total account for 70 percent of America’s milk production.

They were accused of prematurely slaughtering perfectly healthy cows in an unofficial program from 2003 to 2010. The strategy was to shrink the supply of raw milk so that dairy farmers could charge more from processors, the companies that turn milk into dairy products such as cheese or yogurt.

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The seven-year program is estimated to have resulted in the premature death of roughly 500,000 dairy cows.

“This cow-killing program exploited both the animals and the consumers, and resulted in the early deaths of half a million cows,” said general counsel Cheryl Leahy of animal rights’ group Compassion Over Killing.

The $52 million settlement is a pittance to pay for the dairy industry, which is worth $35.5 billion. Some observers have noted that the dairy farmers who participated in the program were not operating out of greed, Bloomberg News reports.

Treasurer Gary Genske of the National Dairy Producers Organization stated, “No [dairy farmers] got rich on that program.”

In Genske’s view, the wasteful program was born out of the inability to manage supply and demand.

“It was a short-term band-aid on a hemorrhage caused by lack of adequate marketing by our cooperatives,” Genske said.

While the amount of dairy that Americans consume has gone up over the years, the amount of available milk -- the market where dairy farmers receive their largest share of profits -- has gone down.

Dairy farmer Nate Wilson of New York voiced sympathy for those caught up in the lawsuit.

“These dairy farmers are up against a terrible reality,” Wilson said. “They don’t have any way to throttle the production of milk other than to eliminate cows. And when the price of milk goes down to ruinous levels, it’s basically the only way out.”

Now that the $52 million settlement has been paid, dairy consumers in 15 states and Washington, D.C., are now actually entitled to a share of that money, KTVZ reports.

Any resident in the listed states who had purchased milk or a dairy product from 2003 to 2016 is technically entitled to a portion of the $52 million.

The states included are Arizona, California, Kansas, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, Oregon, South Dakota, Tennessee, Vermont, West Virginia, and Wisconsin, along with Washington, D.C.

Sources: Bloomberg, The Huffington PostKTVZ / Photo credit: U.S. Department of Agriculture/Flickr

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