It’s been about a week since the American Farm Bureau Federation announced it was diving into a dispute between Dean Foods and hundreds of US dairy farmers, many here in Michigan. Dean Foods is in the midst of bankruptcy proceedings. About 500 of its supplier dairies are on the receiving end of letters from the company with a threatening edge. Dean Foods wants some of its money back. Money the farmers say was legitimately paid to them by Dean Foods in return for their supplying the company with milk prior to the bankruptcy filing.

AFBF President Zippy Duval says the whole thing would be laughable if it wasn’t so serious. Michigan Farm News quotes his criticism of, “predatory lawyers for bullying dairy farmers at a time when many are struggling to keep their farms running.” The Farm Bureau is taking it a step further. Bureau lawyers have sent a letter to the Minnesota law firm working for the Dean Foods Estate during the bankruptcy filing demanding the threatening letters be retracted. The Bureau is threatening legal action of its own against Dead Foods in order to protect member dairy operations.

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Bureau General Counsel Ellen Steen claims the Dean Foods letters to dairy farmers, “are deceptive and constitute an abuse of process that attempts to extract funds that the Debtor (Dean Foods) is not entitled to under the threat of a lawsuit. Put plainly, your letters are a predatory shakedown, written in legalese.”

This week the battle is being joined by Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel. While not threatening legal action on behalf of the farmers, the AG’s office is putting Dean Foods on notice that the state looks dimly on the situation and supports the farmers. The state is offering at least informational assistance to farmers with questions through the Department of Agriculture by calling 517-896-2236. But the state says legal questions need to be addressed to individual farmer’s legal counsel.

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