Dean Foods



Dean Foods is a food processing company focused on dairy products. It is the largest processor and direct-to-store distributor of fluid milk and other fluid dairy products in the US, controlling about a third of the market. In certain states, they control a majority of the market. As Senator Bernie Sanders noted in 2009, “Dean Foods controls about 90 percent of the milk supply in Michigan, 80 percent in Massachusetts, over 80 percent in Tennessee and 70 percent in northern New Jersey. That’s not a free market.” (1).

Dean Foods has about 17,000 employees working at ~70 facilities in the United States. Their headquarters is in Dallas. Their national brands include Dairy Pure, TruMoo, Fruit Rush, Orchard Pure, and Ready Leaf. They license the brand Land O Lakes. They also have several dozen regional brands. (2).


The Dairy Industry in the US

A dairy cow beings her production cycle at about two years old, at the end of her first nine-month pregnancy. If she gives birth to a son, he is generally taken away and raised for veal (see below), because he cannot produce milk, and is not the correct breed to be raised for beef. Daughters are taken away and raised to replace their mother.

The mother is milked immediately following birth. She is then reimpregnated about four months later. She is milked for the first seven months of her pregnancy, meaning she must be providing for the developing calf while also producing many pounds of milk. Generally, milking is abruptly halted two months before the next calf is born; this sudden cessation of milking can lead to painful engorgement of the udder. Feed and water intake is sometimes restricted at this time, which also impairs her welfare.

After the second birth, her calf is again taken away, and she is milked again. About half the time, she is put through a third pregnancy / milking cycle. Often, though, she cannot be bred again because her reproductive system has broken down (3).

Dairy cows are milked 2-3 times per day, producing on average over 60 pounds of milk every day. For a 1,400 lb cow, this is over 4% of her body weight every single day (4).

Through selective breeding[1], manipulations of what she is fed, hormones and other drugs (such as antibiotics), a dairy cow today will produce three times as much milk a day than a cow in 1960. (5). After two or three cycles, she is slaughtered before the age of five. Cows can live to more than 20 years old.

Almost 90% of all the milk sold in the US comes from large factory farms of 100 cows or more. (6). The majority of dairy cows in the US live entirely or mostly indoors, mostly on concrete because it is easy to clean. Many of those – especially lactating cows – spend most of their time tied by the neck in a stall. Only a small minority spends their days grazing, or even exercises regularly. The toll of vast milk production alone leads to many physical problems. Lameness is rampant in the dairy industry – exacerbated by standing on concrete floors, as well as a lack of hoof care. Studies have found up to a quarter of dairy cows suffer from lameness. Mastitis – swelling and inflammation of the udder – is an extremely painful condition that is also widespread among dairy cows. It is the most common reported health issue in the industry, and is responsible for about 15% of reported deaths.

Because of the energy and nutrient needs of such massive milk production, 30-60% of modern dairy cows’ diet are comprised of different energy-dense supplements, such as grains and slaughter waste. Conventional dairy cows in the United States may eat 0.5 kg (1 lb) of slaughter waste every day; which is composed of “trimmings that originate on the killing floor, inedible parts and organs, cleaned entrails, fetuses….”

Other than pre-slaughter deaths from mastitis, lameness, or other diseases, a visible indication of the toll modern production takes on dairy cows is the growing number of “downers” – non-ambulatory cows, unable to walk or even stand. In 2013, the USDA found that 3.4% of cows at all dairies became downers. (6).

Dairy cows are impregnated by forced artificial insemination, embryo transfer, or in vitro fertilization. To obtain the bull semen for these procedures, “electrojaculation” has been developed, whereby a conductive device is inserted into a bull’s rectum, at which point the bull is given an electrical shock. Tail docking – cutting off up to two-thirds of the cow’s tail, without anesthesia – is a common practice. It is unknown exactly how prevalent this practice is. A Colorado State University survey found that more than 4 in 5 dairies practiced tail docking. Cows with their tail removed can suffer from more insect bites, while the wound itself can cause chronic pain.

Except for those that die or are killed before making it to slaughter, virtually every dairy cow is slaughtered at a small fraction of her natural lifespan. Given the stresses she has endured, the quality of her meat is such that it is only used for soup, ground meat, or pet food.

The Humane Society of the United States has a very good report on the cruelty of the dairy industry in America.


The Veal Industry

Virtually all of a dairy cow’s male offspring are raised for veal. Given that dairy cows must give birth to produce milk, this means that veal is a direct and necessary result of the dairy industry.

The USDA recognizes two types of veal: bob veal – produced from calves slaughtered at up to three weeks of age – and special-fed veal, from calves slaughtered around 16-18 weeks. Calves raised for both bob and special-fed veal are fed liquid milk-replacement diets. Although not listed by the USDA, non-special fed veal (pink veal) is marketed in the US.

Many calves raised for veal in the United States are still reared indoors in individual stalls (usually referred to as crates). They are tied to the front of the stall with a fiber or metal tether, restricting virtually all movement until they reach slaughter weight. Veal crates have been outlawed or restricted in the UK and European Union, as well as Arizona, California, Colorado, Maine, Michigan, and Rhode Island. Ohio’s ban is supposed to take effect in 2017; Kentucky’s in 2018. The trend with producers has also been away from veal crates.

Naturally, a mother cows has strong bonds to her sons and daughters, and vice versa. These bonds extend over many years. However, in the modern dairy industry, calves are generally taken from their mothers within hours or even minutes. According to EU researchers, “The routine early separation of cows and their calves in the dairy and veal industries is distressing for both.” (7)

The Humane Society of the United States has an excellent report about the cruelty of the veal industry.


2009 Land O Lakes Supplier Investigation

In 2009, a whistle blower released the results of a five-month investigation of a Pennsylvania supplier for Land O Lakes. The investigator documented abuse and neglect of cows and calves at the facility. These abuses, as seen on the video, included downer cows being electro-shocked and jabbed with the blade of a pocket knife in an effort to force them to move. Sick and Injured cows were left to languish in their own waste for days without veterinary care. In one case, a worker wrapped an elastic band around a cow’s gangrenous, infected teat in order to “amputate” it. This was the extent of her veterinary care; her condition deteriorated for 11 days before she finally died. Criminal charges were filed, but no one was convicted.

2017 Land O Lakes Supplier Investigation

A 2017 undercover investigation of Mason Dixon Farms in Gettysburg, PA also revealed rampant cruelty at another Land O Lakes supplier. The video shows cows being kicked in the face, punched in their sensitive udders, excessively shocked with an electric prod, jabbed with pens or elbows, and having their tails twisted by workers. One worker was fired as a result of the investigation. “Undercover video at Pennsylvania dairy farm leads to employee’s firing,” Philly Voice.


Dean Foods has been the subject of multiple antitrust investigations. After the merger of Suzia and Dean, the combined company divested some assets to try to avoid antitrust attention, creating a nominal competitor called National Dairy Holdings. However, a 2007 class action lawsuit led by food store chain Food Lion and businessman Fidel Breto (doing business as Family Foods), alleged that Dean Foods and National Dairy Holdings entered into a conspiracy not to compete in the southeastern US. To try to stop the suit, Dean went all the way to the Supreme Court, which in 2014 refused to hear the appeal. (8) In March 2017, Food Lion settled with Dean Foods, days before the trial was set to begin. (9) In 2012, Dean settled a similar suit by Southeastern dairy farmers for $140 million, while also agreeing to also change the way they did business. (10) In 2010, the Justice Department filed an antitrust action against Dean over its acquisition of the Foremost Farms. Dean sold Foremost to settle the matter. (11)


Dean Foods was founded in 1925 by Samuel E Dean in Illinois. Dean Milk Company went public in 1961. In 2001, Dean Foods was acquired by Suzia Foods, then the nation’s largest dairy processor and distributor, after which, Suzia changes its name to Dean Foods.

For fiscal year 2016, Dean Foods had revenue of $7.7 billion, down from $8.1 billion for fiscal year 2015 (and $11.5 billion in 2012). Net income for 2016 was $120 million, up from a net loss of $8 million in 2015 (12).

The Center for Media and Democracy maintains a Sourcewatch page for Dean Foods.


[1] “Today’s Holstein cow is a product of human engineering, as people have altered its genome by 22 percent over the past 40 years.” (13).


June 2017