Minimum price for milk gets panel OK Bill goes to Md. House

measure would end Va., Pa., 'advantage'

March 11, 1997|By Ted Shelsby | Ted Shelsby,SUN STAFF

Legislation to pump new life into Maryland's declining dairy industry by setting a minimum price for milk at the wholesale and retail levels received another major boost yesterday when it was approved by the House Environmental Matters Committee.

After more than three hours of debate, the committee voted 13-8 to send to the full House a bill that is intended to eliminate what supporters call an unfair advantage that milk processors in Pennsylvania and Virginia currently have over the industry here.

The legislation was approved Friday by the Economic and Environmental Affairs Committee of the Senate on a 6-5 vote.

House committee approval came after several amendments were added, including one that would eliminate the school milk program from the provisions of the law.

Other amendments would eliminate ice cream, cottage cheese and other dairy products from price controls.

Maryland's milk pricing program would also be eliminated if either Pennsylvania or Virginia repeals its price support plan.

"Now we get ready for the big battle on the floor," Del. J. Anita Stup, a Frederick County Republican who introduced the bill, said after the committee vote.

The committee voted 10-9 to kill an amendment that would have excluded controls on the retail price of milk.

Supporters of the legislation argue that because Pennsylvania and Virginia already have price support systems, processors there can take the profits from the milk they sell in their states and use their excess milk to grab additional customers in Maryland by "dumping" milk on the market here at prices below their production cost.

Processors here are unable to retaliate because Pennsylvania and Virginia control minimum milk prices.

Maryland has lost more than 40 percent of its dairy farms since 1988, and milk processing plants have dwindled to five from about 35 in the mid-1970s.

The legislation would give state Agriculture Secretary Lewis R. Riley the authority to set the minimum price for milk at the farm, processing and retail levels.

Riley would be guided by a seven-member panel dominated by consumers, but it would include a farmer, a representative of a processing plant and a retailer.

Pub Date: 3/11/97

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