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Voters to decide constitutional ‘right to food’ in Maine

Maine enacted the country’s first food sovereignty law in 2017 to encourage food self-sufficiency. Now, its voters will decide whether to declare a first-in-the-nation constitutional right to food “including the right to save and exchange seeds and the right to grow, raise, harvest, produce, and consume the food of their own choosing.”

The proposed constitutional amendment in Maine is among 24 statewide ballot measures in six states that will be decided on Tuesday. Among them is a proposed constitutional amendment that would create a right to “clean air and water and a healthful environment” in New York State.

“The Right to Food is about the individual right to be free from hunger but it is NOT about securing free food from the government,” wrote state Rep. William Falkingham in the state’s election guide. “Instead, it is about protecting the right of people to feed themselves in dignity, meaning that sufficient ability to produce food is available. It means that people have the means to grow or produce food without government interference, or prohibitions to meet their dietary needs for optimal health.”

Opponents say the right-to-food amendment is so loosely written that it could jeopardize state laws for humane treatment of animals or open the gate to domestic livestock in urban backyards. The Bangor Daily News said in an editorial that “this new, ambiguous constitutional right” was all but certain to put judges in charge of interpreting what it meant. “We’ll also point out that the constitutional amendment … does not expressly mention hunger,” said the newspaper on Oct. 20.

The proposal is an outgrowth of the food sovereignty movement, said the Associated Press. Adherents sometimes argue that government regulations, such as food safety rules, are skewed in favor of big food producers and throttle small farmers. Maine has been receptive ground for the food-freedom drive.

Maine’s food sovereignty law was enacted with the purpose of encouraging self-sufficiency in food among Mainers. Local governments were allowed to adopt ordinances for face-to-face sales between food producers and consumers at the site of production, said Ballotpedia. The state Agriculture Department was told to support policies that preserve the ability of communities to produce and consume local foods, preserve family farms, reduce hunger, and ensure the ability of people to prepare, process, advertise, and sell food to consumers for home consumption.

Maine is holding a so-called referendum election with three issues on the ballot, including a $100 million bond issue for transportation projects and whether to ban a high-voltage power line from Canada.

The proposed constitutional amendment says, “All individuals have a natural, inherent, and unalienable right to food, including the right to save and exchange seeds and the right to grow, raise, harvest, produce, and consume the food of their own choosing for their own nourishment, sustenance, bodily health, and well-being, as long as an individual does not commit trespassing, theft, poaching, or other abuses of private property rights, public lands, or natural resources in the harvesting, production, or acquisition of food.”

Produced with FERN, non-profit reporting on food, agriculture, and environmental health.

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