MILWAUKEE (AP) — The nation's largest dairy company agreed Tuesday to sell a Wisconsin milk processing plant to settle an antitrust lawsuit filed by the Justice Department and three states.
The lawsuit filed last year objected to Dean Foods Co.'s 2009 purchase of two plants in Waukesha and De Pere from Foremost Farms USA. The purchase gave Dean Foods control over nearly 60 percent of milk sales in Illinois, upper Michigan and Wisconsin and raised concerns the company would quash competition and drive up milk prices. The attorneys general in those states joined the federal lawsuit.
The proposed settlement filed in federal court Tuesday calls for Dallas-based Dean Foods to sell the plant in Waukesha but doesn't affect its ownership of the one in De Pere.
The lawsuit portrayed Dean Foods' purchase of the Waukesha plant as a strategic move to eliminate a strong competitor and said it left many school districts with only one milk supplier. The company's sale of the plant will remedy that, and it will have to notify the Justice Department and Wisconsin attorney general's office before it buys another plant worth $3 million or more, Wisconsin Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen said in a statement.
"Selling the Waukesha plant will introduce another competitor capable of serving grocery stores, convenience stores, schools, and other milk retailers throughout Wisconsin," Van Hollen said.
In an e-mail, Dean Foods spokeswoman, Marguerite Copel, said reaching an agreement on the lawsuit allows the company to move forward.
"We continue to believe that our acquisition of the Foremost Farms assets in Wisconsin supported competition and benefited consumers," she wrote. "However, because ongoing litigation is expensive, distracting and brings uncertainty to our business, we believe that this resolution is in the best interest of our employees, shareholders, customers and consumers."