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More than half a million cows have been slaughtered in order to raise the price of milk in the United States, according to a pair of class action lawsuits filed against some of the nation’s largest dairy companies and trade associations. Both suits, brought in federal court in Northern California on Sept. 26 and Sept. 27, were filed against the National Milk Producers Federation in Arlington, Va., and one of its programs, Cooperatives Working Together, a trade group that produces 70 percent of the nation’s milk. The suits allege that more than 500,000 cows were slaughtered from 2003 to 2010 under a “dairy herd retirement program” by Cooperatives Working Together, which allowed its members to earn more than $9.5 billion in additional revenue. “We believe this case serves two important causes,” said Steve Berman, managing partner of Seattle’s Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro, which brought the suits, in a prepared statement. “A resolution to this case will protect consumers from artificially-inflated milk prices and also will prevent the unnecessary and shameful killing of tens of thousands of cows each year.” Jim Tillison, chief operative officer of Cooperatives Working Together, speaking on behalf of the National Milk Producers Association, said the program was designed in 2003 to assist dairy farmers who were losing money on milk production. “The program was designed and has always been operated in a manner fully consistent with the anti-trust laws of the United States,” he said. “The lawsuit filed yesterday in California at the instigation of a West Coast animal rights group is without merit. 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.” Also sued were individual members of Cooperatives Working Together, including Dairy Farmers of America Inc., the largest dairy farmer cooperative in the nation, based in Kansas City, Mo.; Land O’Lakes Inc., the second largest cooperative, based in Arden Hills, Minn.; Dairylea Cooperative Inc., based in Syracuse, N.Y.; and Agri-Mark Inc., based in Lawrence, Mass. Kristi Dale, spokeswoman for Dairy Farmers of America, and Jennifer Huson, a spokeswoman for DairyLea, referred calls to Cooperatives Working Together. Jeannie Forbis, a spokeswoman for Land O’Lakes, said in a statement: “Upon an initial review of the lawsuit, we believe the accusations made are unfounded. Beyond that, we will not comment on pending litigation.” A spokesman for Agri-Mark did not respond to a request for comment. The suits allege that Cooperatives Working Together had a different goal: Force small farmers to kill their entire herds, thus benefiting larger companies. “The purpose and effect of the herd retirement program was to reduce the supply of raw farm milk in order to increase its price, which in turn increased the price paid by consumers for milk and other fresh milk products,” one of the suits says. “By manipulating the supply of raw farm milk through herd retirement, price competition has been suppressed and prices have been supported at artificially high levels through the United States. As a result, indirect purchasers of milk and other fresh milk products have paid supracompetitive prices.” The suits seek damages for separate classes under the antitrust laws of 27 states, including California, Florida, Illinois, Massachusetts, New York and Wisconsin. The classes consist of consumers who have purchased milk or fresh milk products since 2004. One suit was brought on behalf of two individual consumers – one in San Francisco and one in Cold Spring Harbor, N.Y. — and the Torah Montessori School in Chicago. The other suit was brought on behalf of two individual consumers, one in Waukesha, Wis., and one in Greenfield, Wis. Hagens Berman collaborated with a group called Compassion Over Killing, an organization focused on animal protection based in Los Angeles and Washington. Among other things, the group has petitioned the Food and Drug Administration to crack down on the misleading labeling of egg cartons. Amanda Bronstad can be contacted at [email protected].

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