December 10, 2006
Dairy Industry Crushes Innovator Who Bested Price-Control System
Fascinating, by Dan Morgan, Sarah Cohen and Gilbert Gaul
In the summer of 2003, shopers in Southern California began getting a break on the price of milk.
A maverick dairyman named Hein Hettinga started bottling his own milk and selling it for as much as 20 cents a gallon less than the competition, exercising his right to work outside the rigid system that has controlled U.S. milk production for almost 70 years. Soon the effects were rippling through the state, helping to hold down retail prices at supermarkets and warehouse stores.
That was when a coalition of giant milk companies and dairies, along with their congressional allies, decided to crush Hettinga's initiative. For three years, the milk lobby spent millions of dollars on lobbying and campaign contributions and made deals with lawmakers, including incoming Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.).
Last March, Congress passed a law reshaping the Western milk market and essentially ending Hettinga's experiment -- all without a single congressional hearing.
"They wanted to make sure there would be no more Heins," said Mary Keough Ledman, a dairy economist who observed the battle.
At the end, participants said, Reid was plainly exasperated. "I'm not listening to any more of this," he said. "I'm out of here."
Reid made his move on Dec. 16, with the Senate chamber nearly empty. He brought up the milk bill, which passed a few minutes later by "unanimous consent," a procedure that requires no debate or roll call vote if both political parties agree. Reid and Kyl said in recent statements that their goal was to level the playing field for milk producers.
Our elected officials at work
Posted by James Zellmer at December 10, 2006 10:33 PM
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