Agriculture plays a fundamental role in the U.S. economy as a multibillion-dollar industry that feeds people all over the world. However, over the past decade, the dairy industry in particular has changed from a reliable sector of the greater agricultural industry into an unsettled, politically-charged, and fractured group. Dairy farmers’ consistently receiving low milk prices has facilitated this divide. Tired of being ignored and underpaid, dairy farmers are demanding change in the current dairy market structure.

Federal Milk Marketing Orders and a variety of statutes regulate the dairy industry, but the 1922 Capper-Volstead Act remains the most notable piece of legislation in the dairy industry. The Capper-Volstead Act provides antitrust exemptions for dairy cooperatives to market, buy, and sell milk from member farmers to processors and distributors. A majority of the country’s dairy farmers are members of a few exclusive dairy cooperatives, giving those cooperatives market dominance. The Capper-Volstead Act was effective but is no longer functioning as Congress originally intended. As a result, dairy cooperatives have experienced unfettered and unregulated growth and now manage the milk supply and control almost every aspect of production from cow to grocery store.

The types of cooperatives that qualify for antitrust protection are unclear, and very few court cases clarify how to control the otherwise-autonomous cooperatives. The Capper-Volstead Act desperately needs revisions to delineate the cooperatives’ roles and responsibilities and to grant a stronger supervisory role to the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture. Making these revisions would help to ensure better cooperative practices and fairer milk prices for dairy farmers.



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