Maryland's dairy industry is on its way to being studied once again as the House of Delegates passed a bill last night appointing a 17-member task force to look into the future of milk production.
The current bill, submitted by Del. Donald B. Elliott of New Windsor, is vastly different from the one he and other sponsors introduced earlier this session.
That proposal would have created a seven-member milk commission to regulate prices paid to farmers for raw milk.
Supporters of the original bill, mainly farmers from Carroll and other western dairy counties, told the House Environmental Matters Committee March 7 that dairymen from Virginia and Pennsylvania are dumping excess milk in Maryland and undercutting prices.
Both Virginia and Pennsylvania have milk commissions, and had agreed to work with Maryland if it created one.
But opponents -- primarily milk processors who would be required to pay fees to run the commission -- argued the proposal would only create another layer of regulation and duplicate the federal milk support program.
Processors are companies that package milk; producers are dairy farmers.
Last year, just before hearings on a similar bill, those processors said that they had not been involved in drafting the bill. Sponsors, led by now-retired Del. James E. McClellan of Frederick, withdrew the bill and agreed to study it last summer.
Milk commission supporters had hoped this year's bill would fare better, particularly because it was formally supported by the administration. During a news conference March 7, Gov. Parris N. Glendening said he was led to support the bill after hearing concern about unfair competition from surrounding states.
Nevertheless, members of the House Environmental Matters Committee were still not ready to support an organization that would set prices for dairy products. Reasoning that last summer's committee had only studied milk commissions, Environmental Matters members voted to recommend the 17-member task force and delete the rest of the bill.
Under the new proposal, the committee would consist of:
* Two delegates
* Two senators
* The Secretary of Agriculture
* The Secretary of Economic and Employment Development
* The Secretary of Health and Mental Hygiene
* The dean of agriculture at University of Maryland
* Nine members representing various segments of the agricultural community, the dairy industry and the general public.
Committee members would also be required to present their findings to the governor and committees by Jan. 1.
It was just such a committee -- consisting primarily of members of the farming community -- that proposed the creation of a milk commission last session.
The bill will now be considered by the Senate Economic and Environmental Affairs Committee.