Dairy Prices: 'A Disaster in the Making'

Citing a “disaster in the making” on Vermont dairy farms, Sen. Bernie Sanders has asked the U.S. Justice Department antitrust division to investigate milk processors. The senator met last week with Assistant Attorney General Christine Varney, the antitrust division chief, to request “a very serious look” at Dean Foods Inc., which dominates some two-thirds of the New England milk market. We’re supposed to be living in a country that embraces competition in the marketplace and free enterprise but that’s clearly not what’s happening when one company controls 70 percent of the market,” Sanders told The Burlington Free Press.

Sanders also has spoken with U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack about increasing price supports paid to dairy farmers.  “Farmers have seen the price for their milk drop from $19.50 per hundred pounds a year ago to less than $11 in June. Meanwhile, Dean Foods profits climbed from $30 million in the first quarter of 2008 to $76.2 million for the first quarter of 2009. “To the best of my knowledge, Dean Foods now controls about 70 percent of the liquid milk production in New England -- 70 per cent. And while family farm incomes are plummeting, Dean Foods has seen very significant rise in profits,” Sanders said during a press conference on Monday at his Senate office in Burlington.

“The low milk prices that Vermont dairy farmers are now receiving are unsustainable,” Sanders said. “If this continues, we will be losing more and more farms, which would be a disaster for our state.”