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Bill to be introduced in 2013 session

By HOLLY NUNN

Staff writer

A fee charged to pet food companies soon could subsidize a fund for spaying and neutering pets.

A state task force looking to establish such a fund plans to propose a bill in the upcoming General Assembly session to raise the pet food brand registration fee from $50 to $150, a cost that some say will be passed on to consumers.

“While I’m sure that the pet food industry will fight it, and they’ll work very diligently to defeat the bill, I’m very comfortable with everything we’ve done,” said Del. Barbara A. Frush (D-Prince George’s), who co-chairs the Task Force on the Establishment of a Statewide Spay/Neuter Fund, which voted Dec. 12 to raise the registration fee. The unofficial tally was 10-6 in favor.

The fund will need about $1 million a year to meet the needs of low-income residents seeking to sterilize their pets, the task force estimates.

The task force, composed of legislators, veterinarians and animal advocates, commissioned an October study that found that about 45,000 animals are euthanized in Maryland shelters each year. The finding led many members to believe that a fund is needed to prevent the overpopulation of unwanted animals.

Thirty-four states have some form of a subsidized spay-and-neuter program, with varying degrees of success. Task force members said that in the successful states, rates have been cut up to 75 percent.

But Kurt Gallagher, a task force member and spokesman for the Pet Food Institute, said the fee is arbitrary and will hurt pet owners who already pay $20 million in sales tax for pet food.

More than 10,600 products are sold in Maryland, and companies pay the annual fee to register each product, including separate fees for the different sizes of a particular kind of food they package.

The current $50 fee goes to the Maryland Department of Agriculture to fund the regulatory activities of the department, ensuring pet food products meet safety regulations.

“This amounts to a $1 million tax on pet food, and we’re very disappointed that the task force voted to tax consumers,” Gallagher said. “We are in favor of voluntary mechanisms to fund this program, and we’ll be working to oppose any tax on pet food.”

The task force also decided to distribute funds both as vouchers for low-income Marylanders and as grants to nonprofit organizations to run individual spay-and-neuter programs.

hnunn@gazette.net