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Depending on who you ask, Maine’s proposed constitutional amendment “right to food” would simply put people at the forefront of how and what they eat – or would endanger animals and food and turn urban areas into cattle pastures.

For supporters, the language is short and to the point, securing the right to grow vegetables and raise livestock in an era where corporatization threatens local ownership of food supplies, a constitutional experiment that has never been tried in any state.

To opponents and skeptics, it is misleadingly vague and represents a threat to food safety and animal welfare and may encourage residents to raise cows in their backyards in cities like Portland and Bangor.

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Phil Retberg feeds his pigs at Quill's End Farm, Friday, September 17, 2021 in Penobscot, Maine.  A voting question will give Maine voters a chance to decide on a first in the nation "right to food change." (AP Photo / Robert F. Bukaty)

Phil Retberg feeds his pigs at Quill’s End Farm, Friday, September 17, 2021 in Penobscot, Maine. A voting question will give Maine voters a chance to decide on a nationwide “right to change food.” (AP Photo / Robert F. Bukaty)
(AP Photo / Robert F. Bukaty)

In the November 2 election, voters will be asked if they are in favor of an amendment to the Maine Constitution “to declare that all individuals have a natural, inherent and inalienable right to cultivate, raise, harvest, produce and consume it. food they choose for their own nourishment, nourishment, bodily health and well-being. “

The proposal is essentially “the 2nd change of food,” the Republican rep said. Billy Bob Faulkingham, who proposed the amendment, comparing it to the U.S. Constitutional Amendment, which guarantees the right to bear arms.

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He says it is a sensible change that would ensure that the government can not prevent people from doing things like storing and exchanging seeds as long as they do not violate public or property rights.

“There are a lot of disturbing trends in the food category with the power and control that companies are taking over our food,” said Faulkingham, who is also a commercial lobster fisherman. “We want to protect the ability of people to cultivate gardens, cultivate and raise their own food.”

Chickens follow Heather Retberg on her family's farm, Friday, September 17, 2021 in Penobscot, Maine.  A voting question will give Maine voters a chance to decide on a first in the nation "right to food change." (AP Photo / Robert F. Bukaty)

Chickens follow Heather Retberg on her family’s farm, Friday, September 17, 2021 in Penobscot, Maine. A voting question will give Maine voters a chance to decide on a nationwide “right to change food.” (AP Photo / Robert F. Bukaty)
(AP Photo / Robert F. Bukaty)

Faulkingham and others said the change is a response to growing business ownership of the food supply. They see the change as a way to remove control of food from large landowners and giant retailers.

But Julie Ann Smith, executive director of the Maine Farm Bureau, the largest agricultural organization in the state, argued that the language of change is so broad that it can make food supplies less secure.

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It is a problem in a state where potatoes, blueberries, maple syrup and dairy products are all central parts of the economy, she said. The change could allow residents to buy and consume food that is not subject to inspection, proper refrigeration and other security checks, Smith said.

“We think it’s very dangerous to have the words ‘to eat the food you choose.’ It is so broad and dangerous, “Smith said.” It has the potential to cause serious problems in food safety, animal welfare. “

Phil Retberg leads his cows back to pastures after morning milking on his family's farm, Friday, September 17, 2021 in Penobscot, Maine.  The courtiers are advocates for one "right to food" bill, as they say would be "an antidote to corporate control over our food supply," and an opportunity for rural areas to become self-sufficient when it comes to what food they grow and eat.  (AP Photo / Robert F. Bukaty)

Phil Retberg leads his cows back to pastures after morning milking on his family’s farm, Friday, September 17, 2021 in Penobscot, Maine. Retbergs are in favor of a bill on the “right to food”, which they say would be “an antidote to corporate control over our food supply”, and an opportunity for rural areas to become self-sufficient when it comes to what food they grow and eat . (AP Photo / Robert F. Bukaty)
(AP Photo / Robert F. Bukaty)

Smith said the farm agency is also concerned that the change could override local ordinances that prevent residents from raising livestock wherever they choose.

Proponents of the proposal, including Faulkingham, said local rules would still be enforced and that the change would not mean you could do things like raise chickens where you want or fish commercially without a license.

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The amendment is an outgrowth of the right of movement, sometimes called the food sovereignty movement, which has expanded in recent years in Maine and states around the United States and Canada.

The movement consists of a patchwork of smallholder farmers, raw milk enthusiasts, libertarians, back-to-the-land advocates, anti-corporate activists and others who want to ensure local control of food systems.

Carolyn Retberg leads a cow to pasture after morning milking at Quill's End Farm, Friday, September 17, 2021 in Penobscot, Maine.  A voting question will give Maine voters a chance to decide on a first in the nation "right to food change." (AP Photo / Robert F. Bukaty)

Carolyn Retberg leads a cow to pasture after morning milking at Quill’s End Farm, Friday, September 17, 2021 in Penobscot, Maine. A voting question will give Maine voters a chance to decide on a nationwide “right to change food.” (AP Photo / Robert F. Bukaty)
(AP Photo / Robert F. Bukaty)

Maine passed a food sovereignty law, the nation’s first of its kind, in 2017. The law allows local governments to OK small food producers who sell directly to customers on the spot. The law was especially popular among sellers of raw milk, which can be legally sold in Maine, but is more restricted in many other states.

The nationwide food sovereignty movement has passed similar laws in states including Wyoming, Colorado, Montana and North Dakota, pushing for the same elsewhere.

The change is likely to find support among Maine’s self-sufficient, practical Yankee sets, said Mark Brewer, a political scientist at the University of Maine.

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

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“I would be more interested in how it could play out in the courts,” Brewer said. “If you want to raise cattle within the city limits when the 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, the concern about cows appearing in cities is a silly distraction from the real goal of the proposal.

Retberg, who owns a 100-hectare farm with cows, pigs, chicken and goats, said the proposal is “an antidote to corporate control over our food supply” and an opportunity for rural areas to become self-sufficient when it comes to what food they grows and eats.

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It is also a chance to tackle the problem of the state’s “food deserts”, where residents do not have enough access to healthy food, Retberg said.

“This shifts power to individuals in a rights framework rather than companies,” Retberg said. “It gives us more voice in how we want our food systems to be and how we want our communities to look.”

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