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National Milk program responds to pricing suit

The National Milk Producers Federation today defended “Cooperatives Working Together,” its program to cull cows when prices were low, against a lawsuit that charged it violated U.S. antitrust laws and attempted to fix milk prices.

The class-action suit was filed Monday by Hagens Berman LLP, 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 (CWT), alleging that the groups conspired to fix the price of milk throughout the United States

According to a news release from the firm, it alleges that that between 2003 and 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 was initially 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 yesterday 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.”