Huge Potato Price-Fixing Lawsuit Heats Up

Tuesday, February 22, 2011
Potato growers belonging to the nation’s largest cooperative are facing a massive lawsuit challenging the organization’s antitrust exemption, which has been in effect since the 1920s. A class action case brought by potato purchasers alleges the United Potato Growers of America (UPGA) has used bribery, threats and coercion against independent growers to convince them to join the cartel.
 
There is so much money involved in this case that a case management session convened by presiding U.S. District Judge Lynn Winmill in December attracted 27 lawyers in person and another 15 on the phone. The complaint names 20 defendants, including well-known names such as General Mills and Dole. It also lists Bayer CropScience as a co-conspirator.
 
Once the case goes to trial, plaintiffs plan to argue that the UPGA, producer of 80% of the nation’s potatoes, should not be allowed to operate in this manner, which includes price fixing, because of the immunity it allegedly enjoys under the Capper-Volstead Act of 1922. Capper-Volstead exempted agricultural cooperatives from antitrust legislation—under certain circumstances.
 
Also named as a defendant in the civil case is the United Potato Growers of Idaho.
-Noel Brinkerhoff, David Wallechinsky
 
Ruling Awaited in Potato Cartel Antitrust Case (by Philip Janquart, Courthouse News Service)
Fresh and Process Potatoes Antitrust Litigation (U.S. District Court, Eastern Idaho) (pdf)

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