Court denies CWT lawsuit dismissal

A lawsuit alleging the National Milk Producers Federation’s Cooperatives Working Together (CWT) herd retirement program violated anti-trust laws will be allowed to continue, after the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California denied a motion to dismiss the case.

The class-action suit, filed in September 2011 on behalf of two consumers, a school and an animal advocacy group, named National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF), Dairy Farmers of America (DFA), Land O'Lakes, Inc. and Agri-Mark, Inc. as defendants.

The plaintiffs, including Compassion Over Killing (COK), a nonprofit animal protection organization based in Los Angeles and Washington, D.C., are represented by Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro, LLP.

The complaint alleges the program was a concerted effort to reduce the supply of milk and inflate prices nationally, sending more than 500,000 cows to slaughter between 2003 and 2010. According to the complaint, the increased milk price allowed CWT members to earn more than $9 billion in additional revenue.

Animal welfare issues were also part of the complaint, according to COK general counsel Cheryl Leahy.

"The dairy industry has consistently shown its lack of regard for animal welfare and the environment," Leahy said.

Jim Tillison, CWT chief operating officer, said the organization would continue to fight the lawsuit.

“Cooperatives Working Together (CWT) is disappointed with the Court’s decision not to dismiss the lawsuit at this early stage,” Tillison said. “CWT now intends to defend itself vigorously and to defeat the baseless claims at trial. The real victims are the thousands of dairy farm families across the U.S. whose independence and business decisions have been called into question. Dairy farmers remain committed to responsible animal husbandry and care deeply about the treatment and health of dairy cows. Cow comfort is not only important, but it is also imperative for milk production.”