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$52 Million Settlement Reached over Price-fixing in Dairy Industry

After years of investigation, a multi-million dollar antitrust case has finally been settled. Dairy farms and corporations across the United States (including the well-known Land O’Lakes) had been killing off dairy cows by the thousands in order to artificially raise the price of milk, which costed households millions of additional dollars over the past decade. Revelation of this caused a class-action lawsuit, which has forced dairy farmers to pay a combined total of $52 million to consumers across fifteen states, including Massachusetts, Vermont, and New Hampshire.

The nonprofit animal advocacy organization Compassion Over Killing had a suspicion that something wasn’t right after prices were increasing more than they were originally projected to, so they did some investigation of their own. They discovered that the trade group including producers responsible for roughly 70% of dairy products in the U.S. had been killing their cows prematurely, resulting in a large increase in prices.

The trade group ran a “dairy herd retirement program” where the larger companies would buy out individual dairy farmers and have them kill their entire herd. Between 2003 and 2011, over 500,000 cows were killed to keep the prices high, according to Compassion Over Killing.

The reasoning behind killing the cows was that the fewer the farmers have, the less milk they will produce. If there is less milk available to companies producing dairy products, then they will be willing to pay a higher price in order to assure that they have what they need in order to produce their products. According to one study, producer prices rose 66 cents per hundredweight of milk between 2004 and 2008.

The dairy farmers acted as a monopoly, giving the consumers no choice but to pay the higher price. After discovering the conspiracy, Compassion Over Killing went to a class-action law firm, Hagens Berman, who then filed a lawsuit against these dairy farmers on behalf of U.S. dairy consumers. A class-action lawsuit is a claim that is filed on behalf of multiple parties impacted by another’s action.

Although the companies settled, thus avoiding any sentencing, Cheryl Leahy, general counsel for Compassion Over Killing, still considered this a win, saying “This settlement sends a message to the dairy industry that they cannot harm people and animals out of simple greed without any accountability. They are not above the law.”

Anyone who has bought any dairy products since 2003 from one of the 15 selected states is eligible to make a claim on this settlement. In order to do so, go to boughtmilk.com and fill out the necessary form.

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