Dairy co-ops sue USDA over milk pricing

Five dairy cooperatives from Washington, Oregon, and Massachusetts filed a complaint in United States District Court for the District of Columbia to prevent US Secretary of Agriculture Ann Veneman from implementing her most recent milk pricing formulas, scheduled to take effect April 1.

Plaintiffs allege that Veneman's decision is arbitrary and capricious in that she abandoned long-standing USDA policies without adequate explanation, and that this action provides an unfair competitive advantage to dairy processors in California.

The five complainants are Northwest Dairy Association (Seattle WA), Northwest Independent Milk Producers Association (Mount Vernon WA), Tillamook County Creamery Association (Tillamook OR), Farmers Cooperative Creamery (McMinnville OR), and Agri-Mark Inc (Methuen MA).

The new formulas would raise the minimum price of milk to federally regulated cheese plants in ways that the plants could not recover from the marketplace. This jeopardizes the ability of dairy farmers to sell milk to federally regulated cheese plants, which would be required to pay substantially higher prices for raw milk than are paid by their competitors in states like California that are not under the federal system.

The lawsuit seeks an injunction to prevent the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) from implementing the skim milk portion of the formula for milk that is made into cheese and whey products (known as the Class III price under the Federal Milk Marketing Order program), as revised in the final rule published Feb 3, 2003, in the Federal Register. The complaint also seeks a reopening of federal hearings to receive additional evidence regarding the appropriate factors to be used in the skim milk portion of the Class III formula.

TAGS: Dairy
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