AUGUSTA — As voters cast their ballots for the November 2 elections, Mainers will decide on three statewide referendum questions, including a possible constitutional amendment granting Mainers a right to produce and consume food of their choosing for their own well-being.
Question 3 reads: Do you favor amending the Constitution of Maine to declare that all individuals have a natural, inherent and unalienable right to grow, raise, harvest, produce and consume the food of their own choosing for their own nourishment, sustenance, bodily health and well-being?
If voters pass the constitutional amendment, Section 25, Right to Food, would be added to the State Constitution.
That language would read: 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.
Critics say the question is confusing and will “invite legal challenges, such as when it comes to enforcing Maine wildlife laws.”
Further, those opposed claim passage of the question will “make Maine the only state that puts a handful of judges in a position to determine the future of Maine’s food policy.”
Among the organizations opposed to the ballot measure are the Maine Farm Bureau and Maine Potato Board, Maine Municipal Association, Maine Veterinary Medical Association, Maine Friends of Animals, Maine Animal Coalition, and Animal Rights Maine.
“Question 3 is so vague that it could unwind some of our state animal welfare laws, including the ban on keeping breeding sows in crates barely larger than their bodies,” said Beth Gallie of the Maine Animal Coalition. “Whether or not it was the design of the drafters of Question 3 to nullify farm animal welfare laws, that is the effect and for that reason alone, Mainers should vote 'no' on the measure.”
“Clarity of language is vital in constitutional measures because it is not easily amended and the rights to be protected are defined by the court not the drafter,” said Rebecca Graham of the Maine Municipal Association. “This vague and undefined amendment could take away the power of local governments to provide proper health and safety, protect water resources, supply meals for students and address climate and housing challenges through zoning.”
“Question 3 asks Mainers to support a constitutional amendment that would preempt all local and state ordinances pertaining to animal cruelty, zoning, and food safety in the name of the ‘Right to Food.’ Yet it does not provide any avenue for alleviating hunger in Maine,” said Dr. Janelle Tirrell, Maine Veterinary Medical Association.
Representative Jennifer Poirier, who represents Skowhegan and a portion of Madison, testified in support of the legislation, LD 95, as it worked through the committee and noted the important results the amendment would bring Mainers, such as providing families with “a guaranteed opportunity to provide fresh foods and produce to their families.”
“Every person in Maine should have the right to grow, raise, harvest, produce and consume the foods that they choose,” she testified.
Emily Horton, the Director of Policy and Community Engagement for Maine’s Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry, also testified on behalf of the Department in February. (The Department testified neutrally.)
Throughout the legislative process, the Department raised concerns about conflicts that may arise “related to the department’s statutorily mandated role to uphold food safety standards related to food in commerce.”
Horton said the Department acknowledges “constitutional amendments will preempt state law and may be subject to legal interpretation going forward.”
Senator Craig Hickman from Kennebec County, who originally tried to get the effort passed in prior legislative terms while a member of the House, said in a news release promoting a pair of virtual events to drum up support for the measure that food is life and thus we should have a right to food in the same way we have a right to life.
“Everybody who wants to live needs to eat,” he said. “Producing your own food is like printing your own money. When you can feed yourself, nobody can push you around or tell you what to do.”
Furthermore, the senator noted a right to food would be a natural one for Mainers.
“I can’t think of anything more important to Maine people than the independence and liberty and freedom to work out our nutritional regimen as we see fit,” Sen. Hickman continued. “And that means we have a right to the food we wish to eat for our own bodily health and well-being. I simply can’t imagine a more non-partisan issue than that.”