The Dairy Industry Slaughtered Half a Million Cows to Make You Pay More for Milk

Well, what do you know? The dairy industry managed to find one more way to be awful.

Every heartless initiative needs a euphemistically benign name, right? Big Dairy called this one the “Dairy Herd Retirement Program.” What it really amounted to was $9.5 billion dollars in alleged industry-wide price fixing — and the unnecessary, premature slaughter of half a million cows. Yes, half a million.

Here’s what happened. Several major dairy producing cooperatives — including the National Milk Producers Federation (a.k.a Cooperatives Working Together or CWT), Dairy Farmers of America, Inc., Land O’Lakes, Inc., Dairylea Cooperative Inc., and Agri-Mark, Inc. — needed to find a way to stop the downward spiral of milk prices.

CWT member groups alone produce more than 70 percent of the dairy sold in the United States. Together, these cooperatives were producing too much raw milk, resulting in a glut.

Photo credit: Thinkstock

Photo credit: Thinkstock

To ensure less milk reached the market, between 2003 and 2010, these groups allegedly bought out entire herds of cows from smaller, struggling dairy farmers who wanted to leave the business. Those cows were killed. In the end, there were ten rounds of “herd retirement” during those years. Each round killed many thousands of healthy young dairy cows, just to keep them from producing milk.

“This cow-killing program exploited both the animals and the consumers, and resulted in the early deaths of half a million cows,” said Compassion Over Killing general counsel Cheryl Leahy on the group’s web site.

Compassion Over Killing is the animal protection group we can thank for figuring out what was going on. After digging into the facts, the group took its evidence to Los Angeles law firm Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro LLP. The firm filed a 2011 class action antitrust lawsuit on behalf of all consumers harmed by this alleged scheme to artificially inflate milk prices.

“Cooperatives Working Together actually had information about its so-called ‘dairy herd retirement,’ program on its own website, along with economic analysis … showing how much the industry profited from the program,” Leahy told The Huffington Post. “We took that information and analyzed the applicable law.”

According to the complaint:

CWT financed ten rounds of herd retirements from 2003 to 2010, during which CWT was responsible for removing over 500,000 cows from production, reducing the nation’s milk supply by approximately 10 billion pounds. According to studies commissioned by CWT from Dr. Scott Brown at the University of Missouri, the program resulted in a raw farm milk price of $0.85/cwt by 2007 and $1.75/cwt by 2010. By the end of the program in 2010, it was responsible for a cumulative increase in milk price revenue of $9.55 billion. Further, Dr. Brown’s studies indicate that “each herd retirement round has effects that extend forward years into the future,” so that dairy farmers are still significantly profiting from previous herd retirements.

Five years later, this case just reached a settlement in which CWT will pay consumers $52 million. Of course, settling a lawsuit is legally not an admission of any wrongdoing. It can simply mean that a case was cheaper to settle than to litigate. Still, Compassion Over Killing says this is a victory. They’re right — it is. They’ve done wonderful work bringing this situation to light.

So, let’s review. The dairy industry is horrible in just about every way they can be. They:

  • Repeatedly impregnate female cows on factory farms to keep their milk endlessly flowing
  • Forcibly remove the resulting calves from their mothers almost immediately after birth
  • Send the male calves off to live short, sad lives tied up in tiny hutches, after which they die to become veal
  • Raise many of the female calves to become the new generation of overworked, badly treated dairy cows
  • Send off the “spent cows” who’ve lived their lives as perpetual milk machines to become low grade hamburger
  • Cause innumerable and worsening environmental problems because of the sheer number of cows and feed for the cows that’s needed to meet dairy demand
  • Allegedly kill off 500,000 dairy cows to create a false milk shortage that drives up prices
  • Stick their corporate hands right into your wallet, making you pay more for milk because there’s “less” of it now

“The biggest dairy producers in the country, responsible for almost 70 percent of the nation’s milk, conspired together in a classic price-fixing scheme, forcing higher prices for a basic food item onto honest consumers and families,” said Hagens Berman managing partner Steve Berman. “We’re pleased that this settlement will return some of what consumers lost due to this massive fraud perpetrated for ill-gotten gains.”

Photo credit: Thinkstock

Photo credit: Thinkstock

If you lived in Arizona, California, the District of Columbia, Kansas, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, Oregon, South Dakota, Tennessee, Vermont, West Virginia or Wisconsin between 2003 to today, you are eligible for reimbursement from this settlement if you bought milk or other fresh milk products like yogurt, sour cream, cream cheese, cream or half and half. No proof of purchase is necessary. Details on filing for reimbursement can be found at www.boughtmilk.com.

The dairy industry is already on the run thanks to a sharp decline in the purchase of fluid milk. We’re buying so much non-dairy milk now that this aspect of dairy production is really hurting. That’s great news.

Overall, though, dairy profits are up. In 1975, Americans consumed 539 pounds of dairy per person every year. By 2015, we were consuming 627 pounds a year. We tend to forget that people weren’t meant to drink the lactic fluid of another mammal. We do it because we’re culturally programmed to do it.

Milk drinkers, yogurt spooners, cheese munchers — at what point do you put down your foot and say enough is enough? How bad does it have to get before you stop lining the pockets of Big Diary? Now you know that they’re not only tormenting and killing animals, they’re apparently colluding to take your money. Will you shrug and remain their customer anyway?

Perhaps, for many of you, this is the last straw. Are you finally ready to ditch dairy?

Photo credit: Thinkstock

327 comments

Philippa P
Philippa Powers8 months ago

Disgusting!

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Sarah Hill
Sarah Hillabout a year ago

Sad, if true.

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Claire Cairns-Trouard
Claire Cairns-Trouardabout a year ago

Just another reason to switch to Almond Milk!!!!

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Claire Cairns-Trouard
Claire Cairns-Trouardabout a year ago

Well said Angel L

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Mark Donner
Mark Donnerabout a year ago

I hope that Secretary of Death Agriculture Vilsack dies a horrible painful death. He deserves nothing less for the mass murders and global ecocide that he is guilty of.

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Mark Donner
Mark Donnerabout a year ago

Gerald L. Enough with the tired disgusting excuses for overpopulated human excuses for monkeys. Humans in their "thousands of years" have earned no discernible right to even exist on planet Earth, much less engage in an orgy of killing and torture that no other life form would ever capable of. Most humans are an insult to not only to the animal species but to life itself.

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Mark Donner
Mark Donnerabout a year ago

As far as I'm concerned, all the disgusting factory farmers in "modern" agribusiness are simply terrorists. They have criminal evil minds and should be considered worse than ISIS.

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Marie W.
Marie Wabout a year ago

Not all dairies.

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Gerald L.
Gerald Labout a year ago

angel when Bambi Sympathetics think it is okay to buy deer feed to attract the wonderful creatures coming to their Feeding Stations it conflicts with those attempting to garden. Deer roasts and sausage become a viable option. It is much more cost effective than erecting 9' fencing to protect your attempts at growing vegetables for the portion of your plant based diet.

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angel l.
Angela Labout a year ago

"Isn't man an amazing animal? He kills wildlife - birds, kangaroos, deer, all kinds of cats, coyotes, beavers, groundhogs, mice, foxes, and dingoes - by the millions in order to protect his domestic animals and their feed. Then he kills domestic animals by the billions and eats them. This in turn kills man by the millions, because eating all those animals leads to degenerative - and fatal - health conditions like heart disease, kidney disease, and cancer. So then man tortures and kills millions more animals to look for cures for these diseases. Elsewhere, millions of other human beings are being killed by hunger and malnutrition because food they could eat is being used to fatten domestic animals. Meanwhile, some people are dying of sad laughter at the absurdity of man, who kills so easily and so violently, and once a year sends out a card praying for 'Peace on Earth.'"
C. David Coats

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