Is there a constitutional right to food? Mainers to decide


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Maine residents to vote on constitutional amendment on November 2

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Depending on who you ask, Maine’s proposed “right to food” constitutional amendment would put people in charge of how and what they eat — or put animals and the food supply at risk, and allow urban neighborhoods to grapple with animal pastures. will change in

For proponents, the language is short and to the point, ensuring the right to grow vegetables and raise livestock in an era when corporatization threatens local ownership of the food supply, a constitutional exercise that has never been done in any state. Is.


To detractors and skeptics, it is deceptively ambiguous, represents a threat to food security and animal welfare, and may encourage residents in cities like Portland and Bangor to raise cows in their backyards.

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In the November 2 election, voters will be asked whether they support an amendment to the Maine Constitution “to declare that all persons have a right to grow, grow, harvest, produce, and consume the food of their choice.” natural, inherent and inalienable right to one’s own nourishment, sustenance, physical health and well-being.”

The proposal is essentially the “Second Amendment of the Food”, said Republican Representative Billy Bob Folkingham, who proposed the amendment, comparing it to the US Constitutional Amendment that assures the right to bear arms.

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He says this is a common sense amendment that will ensure that the government cannot stop people from doing things like saving and exchanging seeds, as long as they do not violate public or property rights.

“There are so many disturbing trends in the food category that corporations are taking over and controlling our food,” said Folkingham, who is also a commercial lobster fisherman. “We want to protect people’s ability to grow gardens, grow and grow their own food.”

Folkingham and others said the amendment is a response to increased corporate ownership of the food supply. They see the amendment as a way to gain control of food from big landlords and giant retailers.

But Julie Ann Smith, executive director of the Maine Farm Bureau, the state’s largest farmer advocacy organization, argued that the amendment’s language is so broad it could make the food supply less secure.

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He said this is a problem in a state where potatoes, blueberries, maple syrup and dairy products are important parts of the economy. The amendment could empower residents to buy and consume food that has not been subject to inspection, proper refrigeration and other safety checks, Smith is concerned.

“We think it’s too dangerous to have the words ‘to consume the food of your choice.’ It’s so pervasive and dangerous,” Smith said. “It has the potential to cause serious problems in food security, animal welfare.”

Phil Rateberg drives his cows back to pasture after a morning milk milking at his family's farm on Friday, September 17, 2021 in Penobscot, Maine.  Rateberg a.  are supporters of "right to food" bill what they say will be "An antidote to corporate control of our food supply," And a chance for rural communities to become self-sufficient when it comes to what they grow and eat.  (AP Photo/Robert F. Bucati)

Smith said the Farm Bureau is also concerned that the amendment could override local ordinances that prohibit residents from raising livestock at any location they choose.

Proponents of the proposal, including Folkingham, said local regulations would still apply, and the amendment would not mean you could raise chickens anywhere or fish commercially without a license.

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The amendment proposal is the result of the Right to Food Movement, sometimes called the Food Sovereignty Movement. Which has expanded in recent years to Maine and the surrounding states of the US and Canada.

The movement includes small farmers, raw milk enthusiasts, liberals, back-to-the-land advocates, anti-corporators and others who want to ensure local control over food systems.

Carolyn Rateberg drives a cow to pasture after milking it in the morning at Quills & Farms in Penobscot, Maine, Friday, September 17, 2021.  A ballot question in Maine will give voters a chance to decide on the first in the country "Right to food amendment." (AP Photo/Robert F. Bucati)

Maine enacted a food sovereignty law in 2017, the first of its kind in the country. This law allows local governments to fine small food producers who sell directly to customers on-site. The law was particularly popular with sellers of raw milk, which can be legally sold in Maine but is more restricted in many other states.

nationwide food sovereignty movement Similar laws were found in states including Wyoming., Colorado, Montana and North Dakota, and elsewhere insists for the same.

Mark Brewer, a political scientist at the University of Maine, said the amendment is likely to find support among Maine’s self-sufficient, pragmatic Yankee set.

However, Brewer agreed with the criticism that the amendment is so vague that it is unclear exactly what it would do.

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“I’d be more interested in how it might play out on the courts,” Brewer said. “If you want to raise cattle within city limits, when city laws say you can’t, but the constitution says you can. What happens then?”

For Heather Rateberg, a farmer in the small town of Penobscot, concerns about cows coming into cities are a silly distraction from the proposal’s real goal.

Rateberg, who owns a 100-acre farm with cows, pigs, poultry and goats, said the proposal is “an antidote to corporate control of our food supply” and an opportunity for rural communities to become self-sufficient when it comes to what food. Comes. They grow and eat.

It’s also a chance to tackle the problem of the state’s “food desert,” where residents don’t have adequate access to healthy food, Rateberg said.

“It empowers individuals in a framework of rights rather than corporations,” Ratberg said. “It gives us more voice in how we want our food systems, and how we want our communities to be seen.”

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