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In advance of a June 25 antitrust workshop focusing on the dairy industry at UW-Madison, 18 family farm groups and their allies from across the globe are demanding that the USDA and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack take action against corporate control and unfair prices in the milk market.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Department of Justice are sponsoring the workshop.

Dairy farmers in the U.S. and around the world are being destroyed by prices that are half what the farmers need to cover their costs of production, while consumers see no difference in the store. At the same time Kraft Foods is posting record profits. Kraft is just one of the major players that have been implicated in manipulating farmers’ prices at the Chicago Mercantile Exchange. They should not be allowed to make such obscene profits at the expense of struggling farmers and consumers during a recession.

Because the CME is a private corporate subsidiary of the Chicago Board of Trade, it is not subject to the same transparency and accountability rules typical in a democracy. For instance, just a small handful of commodity traders are allowed to buy and sell block cheddar at the CME, basically setting global prices for fluid milk and many other dairy products. While the Commodity Futures Trading Commission has nominal oversight of the CME, it seldom intervenes. The primary obligation of the CME remains generating dividends for its investors. In 2008 the CME reported revenues in excess of $2.5 billion, handling over a billion contracts worth trillions of dollars.

Family dairy farmers facing imminent bankruptcy are calling on President Obama, the USDA, the Department of Justice, and Congress to aggressively prosecute antitrust cases involving price collusion, racketeering, and market manipulation by the dairy giants that have been on hold for years under the Bush administration. DOJ did recently challenge Dean’s proposed takeover of Foremost, but much more needs to be done.

The recent $12 million fine levied by the Commodity Futures Trading Commission against Dairy Farmers of America for price fixing at the CME is just the tip of the iceberg. Even the Department of Justice has admitted that collusion among the dairy giants is worse than Enron. Our situation is worse now than during the Great Depression, and if this criminal behavior doesn’t stop we’ll have no U.S. dairy industry left and we’ll all be stuck eating contaminated imported dairy products instead.

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Consumers, workers, and other supporters of fair prices and competitive markets are being asked by family farmers to join them in speaking out against corporate control of the U.S. food system.

Public events are being organized in Madison in conjunction with the antitrust workshop -- including educational workshops and a Dairy Town Hall Meeting on June 24 at the Memorial Union. Citizens are also urged to contact their elected officials in Congress to take stronger federal enforcement action against illegal price-fixing by the food giants.

John Kinsman is a dairy farmer near Lime Ridge and president of Family Farm Defenders. Joel Greeno is a dairy farmer near Kendall and vice president of Family Farm Defenders.