PORTLAND-- Maine's proposed constitutional amendment on "right to food" would allow people to decide what and how they eat. It could also endanger food supplies and make urban areas into cattle pastures.
The language is simple and direct for supporters. It enables them to secure the right to raise animals and vegetables in an age when corporatization threatens local control of the food supply. This constitutional experiment has never been attempted in any other state.
It's confusingly vague for opponents and skeptics. This could pose a threat to animal welfare and encourage residents to raise cows in their own backyards in places like Portland or Bangor.
Voters will be asked to vote on a Maine Constitution amendment "to declare that all persons have a natural and inherent right to grow and raise, harvest and produce the food of their choice for their nourishment, sustenance and well-being."
According to Republican Rep. Billy Bob Faulkingham who proposed the amendment, it is "essentially the 2nd Amendment to food". He likened it to the U.S. Constitution amendment that guarantees the right to bear weapons.
He said it was a common-sense amendment. It would ensure that the government cannot stop people from exchanging and saving seeds. As long as they do not violate any public or property rights.
Faulkingham is also a commercial lobster fisherman. "There are a lot of worrying trends in the food sector, with the power, control that corporations have over our food," Faulkingham said. "We want people to have the opportunity to grow their own gardens and to raise their own food.
Faulkingham and other commentators said that the amendment was a response to increasing corporate ownership of the food supply. They view the amendment as a way of grabbing control over food from giant retailers and landowners.
Julie Ann Smith, executive Director of Maine Farm Bureau, the state's largest farmer advocacy group, said that the language of the amendment could lead to a decrease in food safety.
She said that this is a problem in a state like Wisconsin, where blueberries, maple syrup, and dairy products are key components of the economy. Smith was concerned that the amendment would allow residents to purchase and consume food that's not subject to inspections, proper refrigeration, and other safety checks.
Smith stated that it was very dangerous to use the phrase "to eat the food of one's choosing". It could lead to serious problems in food safety and animal welfare.
Faulkingham was one of the supporters of the proposal. He stated that local rules would still apply and that the amendment wouldn't mean that you can raise chickens wherever you like or fish commercially without a licence.
The amendment proposal is a result of the right to food movement (sometimes called the food sovereignty movement, ), which has grown in recent years in Maine, as well as other states in the U.S., and Canada.
This movement is made up of small farmers, raw-milk enthusiasts, libertarians back-to the land advocates, anti-corporatists, and other people who want to preserve local control over food systems.
In 2017, Maine passed a law on food sovereignty, which was the first in the country. Local governments can approve small food producers who sell directly to customers at their premises. This law is especially popular among raw milk sellers, which can legally be sold in Maine, but are more restricted in other states.
The nationwide movement for food sovereignty has produced similar laws in Wyoming and Montana and is pushing for the same elsewhere.
According to Mark Brewer, a University of Maine political scientist, the amendment will likely find support from Maine's self-sufficient and practical Yankee set.
Brewer however, agreed with the criticism that the amendment was so vague, it's not clear what it would do.
Brewer stated that he was more interested in the courtroom process. "If you wish to raise cattle within city limits, even though the laws state otherwise, the Constitution allows you to do so. What then?
Heather Retberg is a Penobscot farmer. She believes that cows showing up in cities is a distraction from the main goal of the proposal.
Retberg has a 100-acre farm that includes cows, pigs and chickens. He said the proposal was "an antidote against corporate control over our food supply" and would allow rural communities to be self-sufficient in terms of what food they grow.
Retberg stated that it's also an opportunity to address the problem of "food deserts" in the state, where residents don’t have enough access healthy food.
Retberg stated that this shifts power away from corporations to individuals within a rights framework. It gives us more control over how our food systems and communities look.