City dairy does about face, opposes minimum prices Cloverland now against Assembly bill it favored

February 26, 1997|By Ted Shelsby | Ted Shelsby,SUN STAFF

In a major shift, Baltimore's only milk processor has joined the ranks of the opponents of legislation aimed at stabilizing Maryland's rapidly declining milk industry.

In a surprise move yesterday during a hearing before the Senate Economic and Environmental Affairs Committee, opponents of the Fairness in Milk Marketing Act of 1997 introduced a letter from Cloverland Green Spring Dairy's general manager, Lawrence C. Webster, telling a customer that it could count the dairy as being opposed to the legislation.

This was in contrast to the Cloverland's position in December, when its president, Ralph C. Kemp, linked the company's long-term survival and the jobs of its 500 workers to a bill that would prohibit competitors in Pennsylvania and Virginia from stealing customers by "dumping" their excess milk in Maryland at prices below the cost of production.

Kemp blamed Cloverland's plight on Maryland being between two states -- Pennsylvania and Virginia -- with milk price supports.

House and Senate bills would allow the Maryland Secretary of Agriculture to establish minimum milk prices in the state. Proponents argue that this would halt the dumping.

In his letter, Webster said the proposed legislation put the dairy "in the middle of our suppliers who are mainly for the bills and our customers who are mainly opposed."

Attempts to reach both Webster and Kemp were unsuccessful yesterday.

Proponents of the legislation say it is the major retailers who are benefiting from high milk prices in the Baltimore area. Noting that milk prices vary greatly throughout the state, Gerald Evan, a spokesman for the state's dairy farmers, said the major grocery stores chains, including Giant Food, Inc. and Safeway, are opposed to the legislation because it would provide consumers with the information needed to know when they "are being gouged" at the supermarket.

The legislation would allow the secretary of agriculture to set lTC minimum price for milk at the dairy, processor and retail levels.

The secretary would be guided by a seven-member panel made up of four consumers, a farmer, a representative of a processor and a retailer.

Maryland has lost more than 40 percent of its dairy farms since 1988.

The number of milk processing plants has fallen to five from about 35 in the mid-1970s.

Pub Date: 2/26/97

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