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Why the Milk Monopoly Is Faltering

Analysis by Dr. Joseph Mercola Fact Checked

Story at-a-glance -

  • Dean Foods, the largest dairy processor in the U.S., filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in November 2019. Dairy Farmers of America (DFA) — the largest dairy co-op in the U.S. — may end up buying Dean Foods, forming an even larger dairy monopoly
  • The merger would pose a serious conflict of interest for dairy farmers, as DFA is supposed to advocate for farmers but would end up being a processor. As such, they’d have an interest in keeping milk prices low, at the detriment of the dairy farmers they represent
  • Milk is a perfect example of how your choices are being restricted for no other reason than to benefit big business. Raw milk is banned in many states on the basis of claims that it may make you sick. In sharp contrast to the U.S., many European countries sell raw milk in vending machines
  • In recent years, an increasing number of Americans have embraced organics and everything that goes with it, including minimal processing, higher nutrient density, fewer chemical contaminants, animal welfare, food safety and environmental regeneration
  • The dairy monopoly doesn’t seem to understand modern consumers, as it ignores all of the concerns that have brought organics from a small specialty niche into mainstream prominence. The failure to give consumers what they want is killing the dairy industry

Life is about choice. Every day we make choices that determine how we want to live — what we eat, what we read, whom we elect and so on. But as lobby groups and Big Business wield their influence, your daily choices become increasingly limited. And when your options are deliberately cherry picked and certain alternatives are vilified and suppressed, how much choice do you really have?

Milk is a perfect example of how your choices are being restricted for no other reason than to benefit big business. Raw milk is banned in many states on the basis of claims that it may make you sick.

Yet, toxic herbicides and pesticides are dumped on our crops by the tankful, and this is touted as perfectly safe. If this reasoning seems nonsensical, then your reality testing is intact.

Government and industry are marked by massive corruption that has permeated most of the regulatory bodies in the U.S. The fight for food freedom isn't just for those who love raw milk — it's for anyone who wants to be able to obtain the food of their choice from the source of their choice.

In sharp contrast to the U.S., where raw milk is demonized, many European countries sell raw milk in vending machines, as illustrated in the featured video by The Healthy Home Economist.1 How can raw milk be safe all over Europe — safe enough to be dispensed from a vending machine, no less — yet be too hazardous to be sold in the U.S.?

The answer to that is that it isn't dangerous at all. In fact, the U.S. standards for raw milk are in many instances higher than those for pasteurized milk. As noted by Healthy Home Economist founder Sarah Pope in the video,2 the reason Americans don't have free access to raw milk has nothing to do with consumer safety; it's about maintaining the profits of the Big Dairy monopoly.

Two Dairy Monopolies May Merge Into One

As reported by Washington Monthly,3 Dean Foods, the largest dairy processor in the U.S., filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in November 2019.4 Aside from processors like Dean Foods, farmers have the option of selling their milk to dairy cooperatives, which negotiate sales of the milk to processors and retailers on behalf of its members.

Dairy co-ops have been rapidly consolidating, however, leaving farmers with fewer options for sales. Now, their options may dwindle even further, as Dairy Farmers of America (DFA) — the largest dairy co-op in the U.S. — may end up buying Dean Foods.

The merger would pose a serious conflict of interest for dairy farmers, as DFA is supposed to advocate for farmers but would end up being a processor. As such, they'd have an interest in keeping milk prices low, at the detriment of the more than 14,000 dairy farmers they represent.5,6

While combining these two monopolies would violate antitrust rules under normal circumstances, such mergers are legal when one firm is about to go out of business. Together under one umbrella, Dean Foods and DFA would form a monopoly that threatens the livelihood of farmers to a greater degree than any retaliatory tariffs from China ever could.

DFA already controls about 30% of the raw milk supply while Dean controls 12% of the fluid milk market. Both of these monopolies have settled antitrust claims in the past, and their merger is hardly going to make it any less anticompetitive. As reported by Washington Monthly:7

"… antitrust laws permit collusion once it occurs within a single corporation. 'The more DFA expands downstream into fluid milk processing the greater the leverage it's going to have in a variety of ways,' Peter Carstensen, a Professor Emeritus at the University of Wisconsin Law School and former Department of Justice antitrust attorney, told me.

So-called ''tacit' coordination becomes much more possible because … that will be an internal corporate [decision].' The merger means that dairy farmers have even fewer processors competing to buy their milk.

'As a producer, I'm concerned about DFA making this large a purchase,' said Charles Untz, a farmer and former DFA board member. 'It puts a lot of the control of the fluid market in the hands of one co-op. That sends a little fear as far as the milk price goes, because they can literally dictate what they pay for milk' …

If DFA operated the way co-ops are supposed to, its farmer owners would be able to decide if a major deal like acquiring Dean Foods was worth the risk. But because of its vast size and entrenched management, farmers have little control …"

Milk Industry Doesn't Understand Modern Consumers

Again and again, farmers are told to "go big or go broke." But this isn't necessarily true. At least this trend isn't the result of free market forces. In recent years, an increasing number of Americans have embraced organics and everything that goes with it, including minimal processing, higher nutrient density, fewer chemical contaminants and animal welfare.

People are becoming more educated about the environmental impact of monocrop agriculture and concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs), as well as their ramifications for food quality and food safety.

What a growing number of consumers want is more raw, organic and grass fed milk, yet the dairy industry is pushing forward with plans for ever-larger CAFOs and increased centralization and monopolization.

This is why Dean is going bankrupt. It's not because it's not big enough already. It seems Big Dairy simply doesn't understand modern consumers, seeing how it's doing the complete opposite of what so many are calling for.

Big Dairy ignores all of the concerns that have brought organics from a tiny little specialty niche into mainstream prominence. Among them is the growing public understanding of the health concerns associated with CAFO products.

Just like ground beef mixtures, any given gallon of CAFO milk can contain milk from as many as thousands of cows. It takes just one sick cow to contaminate many thousands of hamburger patties or gallons of milk — even when processors assure you that their products have been inspected, tested and sanitized.

On the other hand, the risk of widespread illness affecting hundreds of people all over the country is barely possible with ground beef and milk from small organic farms and dairies, as the ground beef you buy there typically comes from a single cow, and the milk is mixed with a limited number of cows on the farm.

Another growing concern is the environmental pollution associated with CAFOs. Consumers are starting to recognize that CAFOs are among the biggest polluters destroying our air, soil and water, and are using their purchasing dollars to support operations that understand the role the farm plays in maintaining ecological balance, and are actually improving the environment rather than destroying it.

Fear-Mongering Used to Control Raw Milk Sales

Just where did America's fear of raw milk come from? Raw milk did go through a "dark age" in the mid-1800s, which is still used to seed fear in present day. At that time, the cows' diets, combined with unsanitary conditions, water supplies contaminated with raw sewage and lack of refrigeration led to the spread of diseases like tuberculosis and typhoid. Many died from raw milk that came from unsanitary dairies raising malnourished cows.

The "swill milk" scandal also occurred around the 1850s.8 Dairy cows fed the remnants from grain distillation and raised in poor conditions produced diseased milk, which was then mixed with chalk and sold as fresh. A reported 8,000 children died as a result, which increased consumer support and industry acceptance of pasteurization.9

Today, this fear is still used as a tool to restrict your right to raw milk, even though the conditions that made raw milk unfit for consumption have long since been amended.

Tennessee Bill Seeks to Eliminate Herdshare Programs

A perfect example of government overreach based on these outdated fears is Senate Bill 15 (SB15), introduced in Tennessee by Sen. Richard Briggs, R-Knoxville, which would make it illegal for a partial owner of a hoofed animal to drink the milk from that animal.10

Only a sole owner of a hoofed animal would be allowed to drink its milk. In essence, the bill is an attempt to snuff out herdshare programs. Herdshares are private agreements formed between farmers and individuals, which entitle you to the benefits of owning a "share" of a cow, such as a certain amount of milk each week.

However, SB15 not only would make it illegal for herdshare owners to obtain raw milk but also would make it against the law for the farmer running a herdshare to drink milk from their own cow, as they would not be considered a "sole owner."

SB15 is poised as a bill to protect the public welfare from the "risks" of drinking raw milk, but raw milk is a nutritious and safe food when it comes from cows raised on pasture.

Briggs reportedly introduced SB15 to close the herdsharing "loophole" after 10 children in the state were sickened by E. coli that was blamed on raw milk obtained from a Knoxville shareholder dairy. But according to Weston A. Price, "no E. coli was found in any of the dairy's milk that public health officials tested."11

Raw Butter Producers Sue the FDA

The unfounded fears of raw dairy even extend to raw butter, and producers of raw butter are now suing12 the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which prohibits sale of raw butter across state lines.

The lawsuit was filed by the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund (FTCLDF), a nonprofit membership organization, and seeks to overturn the decades-old ban on interstate sale of unpasteurized milk products, which includes butter. This is rather nonsensical, because even if you're concerned about raw milk contamination, pathogens have a hard time growing in butter. As reported by Reason:13

"A European study14 published earlier this year found that 'the chance of growth of Listeria monocytogenes in raw milk homestead butter is small.' (Unpasteurized butter is common in many countries, including those in Europe.)

The FTCLDF suit cites numerous studies — including research by the FDA itself — that supports the contention raw butter is not a good medium for pathogenic growth.

It also cites the federal government's own data, which suggests 'at most–one' reported case of foodborne illness has occurred in recent decades as a result of consuming unpasteurized butter. That illness, in Utah in 2007, was caused by consuming homemade (rather than commercially sold) butter.

Not surprisingly, foodborne illnesses caused by raw butter are virtually unknown. For example, the suit notes there have been no cases of foodborne illness traced to raw butter from McAfee's dairy, Organic Pastures, which has sold more than 2 million pounds of raw butter in California since 2001."

Raw Milk Cheese Also Wrongly Targeted

Unfounded fears of raw milk and government overreach also threaten the artisan cheese industry, as detailed in the book, "Ending the War on Artisan Cheese," written by food scientist Catherine Donnelly.15 In an interview with Eater, Donnelly states:16

"There are careful standards that cheesemakers pay attention to because if they don't start out with the best quality raw materials, they're not going to end up with a good cheese.

Paying attention to the microbiological quality of the raw milk is really, really critical. The raw milk, the starting material, has to be of good quality or you're not going to have a sellable product."

What's more, Donnelly notes that more foodborne illness outbreaks are associated with processed and pasteurized products than raw milk and raw cheese. Despite that, the FDA continues to favor Big Dairy at the expense of smaller artisan producers:17

"Who has the ear of the FDA when regulations are being promulgated? It isn't the small, rural farm people who have a seat at the table, influencing policy. It's the large, multinational corporations who are looking at their bottom line and profit.

If those voices are having input on regulations, there isn't a holistic approach for the FDA to look at something other than a one-size-fits-all approach to regulations. Cheese makers have no market for their product if it's contaminated and they're making their customers sick.

But I would argue that a small-scale producer has much more control over the safety of that process than some of these large-scale industrial plants, where there are lots of post-pasteurization processes like shredding, and cutting, and repackaging, and lots of opportunities for exposure to contamination. That's why we see more outbreaks associated with industrially processed products, as opposed to artisan."

While in the U.S. cheese must either be made from pasteurized milk or held for 60 days before it can be sold, Europe considers raw milk essential to such delicacies as traditional French cheese. Pennsylvania cheesemaker Sue Miller explained to Mother Nature Network:18

"There are all these great enzymes living in the milk when it's raw that create flavor profiles. When milk is pasteurized, they get extinguished so you have to add cultures to accentuate the flavors of the milk … I'd love for people to really try raw milk cheese. In Europe people don't want pasteurized cheese. They know how good raw milk cheese is."

Support Raw Milk and Your Right to Food Freedom

Ultimately, whether you drink milk or not, and whether you prefer raw or pasteurized milk, is a personal choice and should remain that way. You have the right to choose what to eat, regardless of the government's opinion on what's healthy and what's not.

As mentioned, strict regulations are already in place for raw milk — in some cases far stricter than those for pasteurized milk. So there's really no reason — aside from bolstering CAFO profits — to prohibit the sale of raw milk, cheese or butter.

As long as farmers are prohibited from selling to consumers directly, processors can and do price fix the market, ultimately leading to corporate monopolies, consolidation of CAFO dairy farms, a degradation of food safety and quality, and the intentional destruction of small, family dairy farms.

The answer to the dying dairy industry is to make raw milk legally accessible everywhere. At present, 43 of 50 states19 have made it possible to buy raw milk in one way or another (even though some states still force farmers to label the milk as being restricted to pet consumption only, which is yet another fear tactic designed to keep the squeamish at bay).

You can help push the remaining seven states to legalize raw milk by making a donation to the Weston A. Price Foundation's Real Milk Campaign. If you're still unsure of where to find raw milk, check out Raw-Milk-Facts.com and RealMilk.com.

They can tell you what the status is for legality in your state, and provide a listing of raw dairy farms in your area. The Farm to Consumer Legal Defense Fund20 also provides a state-by-state review of raw milk laws.21 California residents can also find raw milk retailers using the store locator available at www.OrganicPastures.com.