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Published October 03, 2011, 07:34 PM

Suit filed against dairy program

WASHINGTON — The National Milk Producers Federation on Sept. 28 defended “Cooperatives Working Together,” its program to cull cows when prices are low, against a lawsuit that charges it violates U.S. antitrust laws and attempts to fix milk prices.

By: Jerry Hagstrom, Special to Agweek

WASHINGTON — The National Milk Producers Federation on Sept. 28 defended “Cooperatives Working Together,” its program to cull cows when prices are low, against a lawsuit that charges it violates U.S. antitrust laws and attempts to fix milk prices.

The class-action suit was filed Sept. 26 by Hagens Berman L.L.P., a Seattle-based firm in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California against several large players in the dairy industry, including the National Milk Producers Federation, Dairy Farmers of America, Land O’Lakes Inc., Agri-Mark Inc. and Cooperatives Working Together, alleging that the groups conspired to fix the price of milk throughout the United States

Allegations against program

According to a news release from the firm, it alleges that that from 2003 to 2010, more than 500,000 cows were slaughtered prematurely under CWT’s dairy herd retirement program in a concerted effort to reduce the supply of milk and inflate its price nationally. According to the complaint, the increased price allowed CWT members to earn more than $9 billion in additional revenue.

The case initially was researched and developed by Compassion Over Killing, a national animal protection organization, the firm said.

Jim Tillison, chief operating office of Cooperatives Working Together, said in a statement that the group was created in 2003 as “a self-help initiative to assist family dairy farmers and members of dairy cooperatives who were losing money producing milk.”

“The program was designed and has always been operated in a manner fully consistent with the anti-trust laws of the United States,” Tillison said.

“The lawsuit filed . . . in California at the instigation of a West Coast animal rights group is without merit,” the statement said. “National Milk Producers will vigorously defend its actions and those of its member cooperatives and their producers in this lawsuit and expect that those actions will ultimately be vindicated.”

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