Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund
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Md. Bill Would Permit Cow Ownership Agreements

Article from Lancaster Farming

ANNAPOLIS, Md. — Maryland General Assembly Delegate J.B. Jennings (R-7) recently introduced bill HB1080, on dairy animal ownership, to restore Maryland farmers and citizens’ right to engage in contractual agreements called agistments.

According to the Maryland Independent Consumers and Farmers Association (MICFA), agistments are arrangements for pasturing and managing a horse or livestock animal and have existed for centuries. Dairy agistments are a situation in which farmers pasture, feed and milk a cow for the owners who might not have the land themselves. Horse boarding is a common agistment practice. Agistments have been compared to time-share arrangements. In many states, cow owners benefit from their animals’ milk production in this way, according to MICFA.

“I sponsored this legislation so that Maryland consumers can obtain fresh milk in Maryland and support Maryland farmers,” Jennings said. “It is especially important right now that farmers be able take advantage of all economic opportunities available to them. I hope to see Maryland dairy farms thrive once this legislation passes and the right of farmers and consumers to engage in agistment agreements for dairy animals is restored.”

In 2006, the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, under the directions of Ted Elkin, deputy director, Office of Food Protection and Consumer Health Services, redefined dairy agistments as a sale of raw milk, thereby criminalizing cow shares in Maryland and sending thousands of Maryland consumers to other states for fresh milk, according to MICFA. Fresh milk advocates say Jennings’ bill would return these revenues to Maryland agriculture. Farmers support HB1080, because during this time of economic crisis in Maryland, when many are looking to the government for economic support, it would create substantial business in Maryland.

Supporters of a similar bill last year included sponsor Del. Nic Kipke (D-31), fifteen bipartisan cosponsors, the Maryland Independent Consumers and Farmers Association (MICFA), the Weston A. Price Foundation and the Maryland Organic Food and Farming Association. Farm and consumer advocacy groups from neighboring states also support the bill.

Liz Reitzig, President of MICFA, said, “This bill would encourage local food and local retail sales, generate taxes, and the earned dollar would be encouraged to stay in the community and the state. This revenue comes from sunshine on grass harvested by cows, a free harvest of energy. Using a minimum of transportation and fuel, this local milk production conserves precious energy and operating expenses.”

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