Milk: good for your bones (and possibly your heart), bad for your wallet. As milk prices have crept up over the last few years, many have simply blamed “the economy.” But, a lawsuit being filed by a non-profit animal advocacy group claims, there may be something more sinister behind the price tag, including the systematic killing of dairy cows.
The animal rights’ group Compassion Over Killing (who has, let’s just say it, one of the least fortunate acronyms) has, with the help of a Seattle law firm, filed a lawsuit which alleges that members of one dairy farmers’ cooperative have engaged in a violation of anti-trust laws (as well as animals’ rights), by allegedly killing dairy cows to decrease supply and artificially inflate the price of milk.
The suit targets Cooperatives Working Together, a program designed to help dairy farmers “strengthen and stabilize milk prices”, who have come under fire after COK allegedly uncovered documents, which they say has revealed the practice of “dairy herd retirement”, in which farmers “retired” (read: killed) healthy cows.
And, according to the suit, the practice wasn’t just being used by a few farms. Funding for the cooperative comes from large organizations, such as Dairy Farmers of America–and members of the CWT produce more than 70% of the nation’s milk.
Because COK is an animal rights activist, their camp is mostly focusing on the killing of cows–with to animal loves seems egregious enough–but interviews with the lawyer representing COK make it clear that the real legal action isn’t about the humane treatment of the dairy beasts, it’s about a violation of Federal anti-trust laws, which make scheming to artificially inflate prices (with actions like decreasing supply) illegal.
The suit alleges that, over the course of 7 years, “dairy herd retirement” was responsible for the killing of close to half a million cows in the state of California, and that it was responsible for filching consumers out of billions of dollars with its artificially inflated and stabilized prices.
CWT has fired back with a very brief, very vague statement, which states:
[CWT] was designed and has always been operated in a manner fully consistent with the antitrust laws of the United States. The lawsuit filed yesterday in California at the instigation of a west coast animal rights group is without merit. National Milk Producers Federation 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.
According to the COK, the lawsuit is not the first of its kind. From their website:
In 2010, Land O’Lakes agreed to pay $25 million to settle a class action lawsuit filed against the United Egg Producers and its members for allegedly engaging in a price fixing scheme. That case alleges egg producers were encouraged to reduce their flock size—to reduce egg supply and inflate prices—as part of a program that was disguised as an animal welfare initiative based on the use of a misleading label on egg cartons.
Land O’ Lakes, by the way, is also a member of the CWT, and thus, a defendant in the current suit.
COK’s animal rights angle is likely to be off-putting to some (though exciting to others), who tend to lump PETA and every other activist group together as cow-hugging hippies (and their pleas to try veganism at the end of the suit’s information page doesn’t help), but the consumers’ rights and anti-trust violations may be enough to raise the ire of many a capitalist, due to its hindrance of the free market.
Dairy herd retirement, the cooperative has claimed, was retired from practice last year–though milk prices have remained high, and further commentary on the end of the practice hasn’t been made.