Depending on who you ask, the proposed “right to food” amendment to the Maine constitution would simply make people responsible for how and what they eat, or endanger animals and food supplies and turn urban areas into grazing areas for cattle.
For proponents, it is short and precise language, guaranteeing the right to grow vegetables and raise livestock in an era in which corporatization threatens local ownership of the food supply – a constitutional experiment that has never been conducted in any state.
For opponents and skeptics, this is deceptively vague, poses a threat to food safety and animal welfare, and could inspire residents to raise cows in their backyards in cities like Portland and Bangor.
In the November 2 election, voters will be asked if they support the amendment to the Maine Constitution “to declare that all humans have the natural, inalienable and inalienable right to grow, grow, harvest, produce and consume food of their choice. for their own nutrition, food, physical health and well-being. ”
The proposal is essentially a “2nd food amendment,” said Republican Rep. Billy Bob Falkingham, who proposed the amendment, comparing it to an amendment to the US constitution that guarantees the right to bear arms.
He says it’s a common sense amendment that ensures the government can’t stop people from doing things like preserving and exchanging seeds, provided they don’t violate public or property rights.
“There are a lot of worrying trends in the food category with the power and control of the corporations that take over our food,” said Falkingham, who is also a commercial lobster fisherman. “We want to protect the ability of people to grow gardens, grow and grow their own food.”
Falkingham and others said the amendment responds to growing corporate ownership of the food supply. They see the amendment as a way to wrest control of food from large landowners and giant retailers.
But Julie Ann Smith, executive director of the Maine Farm Bureau, the state’s largest farmer’s rights organization, argued the amendment’s wording is so broad that it could make food supplies less secure.
This is a problem in the state, where potatoes, blueberries, maple syrup and dairy products are key ingredients of the economy, she said. The amendment could give residents the ability to buy and consume food that is not subject to inspections, proper refrigeration and other safety checks, Smith is concerned.
“We think it is very dangerous to use the words“ eat food of your choice ”. It’s so widespread and dangerous, ”Smith said. “This can cause serious food safety and animal welfare problems.”
Smith said the farm bureau is also concerned that the amendment could overturn local regulations that bar residents from raising livestock anywhere they choose.
Proponents of the proposal, including Falkingham, said local regulations will continue to be respected and that the amendment will not mean you can do things like raise chickens anywhere or fish without a license.
The amendment proposal is the result of a right to food movement, sometimes called the food sovereignty movement, that has expanded in recent years in Maine and states around the United States and Canada.
The movement includes a patchwork quilt of smallholder farmers, raw milk enthusiasts, libertarians, return-to-earth advocates, anti-corporate advocates, and others who want local control over food systems.
In 2017, Maine passed the Food Sovereignty Act, the first of its kind in the country. This law allows local governments to allow small food producers to sell food directly to local buyers. The law was especially popular with sellers of raw milk, which can be legally sold in Maine, but is more restrictive in many other states.
The nationwide food sovereignty movement has developed similar laws in states including Wyoming, Colorado, Montana, and North Dakota, and is promoting the same in other countries.
The amendment is likely to find support among the self-sufficient and down-to-earth Yankee factions in Maine, said Mark Brewer, a political scientist at the University of Maine.
However, Brewer agreed with criticism that the amendment is so vague that it is unclear what it will actually do.
“I would be more interested in how this can play out on the courts,” Brewer said. “If you want to breed cattle within the city, when city laws say you can’t, but the Constitution says you can. What happens then? ”
For Heather Retberg, a farmer in the small town of Penobscot, fears of cows in cities is a silly distraction from the real purpose of the proposal.
Retberg, who owns a 100-acre farm that breeds cows, pigs, chickens and goats, said the proposal is “an antidote to corporate control over our food” and a chance for rural communities to become self-sufficient when it comes to what food they grow and eat.
It is also a chance to tackle the state’s “food deserts” where residents lack access to healthy food, Retberg said.