A Bloody Conspiracy: Dairy Industry Tries to Inflate Prices by Slaughtering 500,000 Cows

A district court has rejected the industry's attempt to dismiss allegations it killed half a million cows illegally.

A suit against the dairy industry for illegally inflating milk prices by killing cows will continue as planned. (Tim Flach/Getty Images)
Megan is a sucker for sustainable agriculture and a good farmers market, she likes writing about food almost as much as eating it.

Half a million slaughtered cows are hard to hide. Just ask the dairy industry.

According to reports by animal advocacy organization Compassion Over Killing (COK), the dairy industry has failed in a recent attempt to dismiss a lawsuit that accuses the industry of artificially inflating prices by killing 500,000 young cows.

The original case, filed in late 2011, states that milk producers violated antitrust laws when they slaughtered half a million young cows between 2003 and 2010 for the purpose of boosting milk sales. The scheme, says the suit, cut the nation's milk supply by 10 billion pounds, creating demand for milk and bringing $9.5 billion in profits to dairy farmers.

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The defendants—among them the National Milk Producers Federation, Dairy Farmers of America, and Land O'Lakes—recently requested a dismissal of the case, arguing that the court has no jurisdiction and that the plaintiffs (who are dairy consumers represented by law firm Hagens Berman) didn't have a valid claim. The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California rejected the motion for dismissal this week.

"This is a huge step forward," Cheryl Leahy, general counsel for COK, told TakePart. "It is rare that animal advocacy groups are able to see the exploitative practices of factory farming considered by a court, and rarer still to see a court reject efforts by the industry to shut these cases down."

While you might expect that COK would be pursuing retribution for animal rights violations, factory farming is not so cut and dry. 

Leahy explains that there are few laws governing what can be done to animals on factory farms, and enforcement of those laws is weak or nonexistent. So for now, the focus of suits like these is targeting large-scale abuse, neglect, and other exploitative practices in factory farming. 

"Not only did this program result in the premature deaths of over 500,000 cows, but it inflated the profits of the dairy industry at the expense of consumers, over a period of years," Leahy says. 

The lawsuit wants the courts to state that the practice was illegal and award money to the consumers who were victims of the artificial inflation.

As for the suit's effect on farm animals, the verdict is out. If the court agrees with the plaintiffs in this case, the verdict could be a deterrant to similar programs in the future. But there are no guarantees.

Still, hitting the industry's $9.5 billion bottom line is no small message to the industry, and COK is feeling good about the recent developments of the suit.

"We are very hopeful for a positive outcome here," says Leahy, "and we are eager to see the case proceed."

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