Southeast dairy farmers claim Dean is ‘unreasonably restraining trade’

Sustainable Food News

A group of small dairy farmers in the southeast U.S. have filed a lawsuit against Dean Foods Co., the largest milk distributor in the country, accusing the company of price fixing.

Dean, based in Dallas, owns Nashville-based Purity Dairies and Horizon Organic, the largest organic milk producer in the United States. The 16 farmers, including eight from Tennessee, claim Dean used its influence and multistate network of milk cooperatives to run a monopoly.

National Dairy Holdings and Dairy Farmers of America Inc. were also named as defendants in the suit.

Dairy Farmers of America is a cooperative that controls 90 percent of milk produced in the Southeast, according to the lawsuit.

The plaintiffs claim farmers outside Dean’s network of cooperatives too often are unfairly excluded from accessing bottling and processing plants.

They claim Dean “continues to abuse that power to maintain and enhance its market dominance in the production and marketing of Grade A milk by unreasonably restraining trade … ,” according to the lawsuit filed July 5 in federal court.

The farmers in the lawsuit asked for class-action status, which would allow other regional farmers to join in the case. They also asked the court to order Dean and the cooperatives to sell off some of their bottling and processing plants to encourage competition.

“We believe that we are in full compliance of all anti-trust laws,” Dean Foods spokeswoman Marguerite Copel said. The company’s legal team was still reviewing details of the suit.

Stephanie Meyers, spokeswoman for Dairy Farmers of America said the cooperative does not comment on ongoing lawsuits.

“We just got it on Friday and haven’t had a chance to thoroughly,” Meyers said.

Dean Foods produces and distributes nearly 50 regional milk brands, in addition to nondairy products such as the Silk brand of soy milk.

Dean shares were down 4 cents to $31.26 in afternoon trading Tuesday.

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