Maine animal welfare advocates warn voters that the right to food referendum, question 3 of the November ballot, could endanger state laws on farm animals, wildlife and wildlife Food Safety. The proponents against the bill are to transfer power from corporate food interests and their regulatory allies to individual Mainers. Voters have the last word.
If approved by the ballot box, the bill would amend the Bill of Rights in the Constitution of Maine by inserting the following wording:
“All people have a natural, inherent and inalienable 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 choice for their diet, livelihood and bodily health. and welfare, as long as an individual does not trespass, theft, poaching or other abuses of private property rights, public lands or natural resources in the harvest, production or acquisition of food.
Much of this sounds appetizing to plant eaters, but the words “of their own choosing” are raising alarm bells among animal welfare advocates and other opponents, who fear that such a broad license. could talk to any owner in Maine, from an industrial farm operator. to the strange neighbor down the road, asking for an exemption from state laws governing animal welfare, pollution control, food safety or pest properties in order to eat the animals they choose however they see fit.
“This particular amendment appears to place above all other laws the right of individuals to acquire food in a manner they deem appropriate,” said veterinarian Janelle Tirrell, who chairs the Maine Veterinary Legislative Committee. Medical Association. “How does this affect zoning laws? Animal Care Regulations? Slaughter Regulation? The truth is, we don’t have an answer.
Maine has some of the toughest animal protection laws in the country. In fact, the nonprofit Animal Legal Defense Fund gave Maine the top spot in its latest ranking of the 50 states for animal welfare laws. It is an achievement that animal welfare advocates in Maine are keen to maintain.
Referendum supporter Senator Craig Hickman D-Winthrop stressed that a constitutional amendment does not change existing state laws. “It doesn’t affect animal welfare because animal welfare laws remain intact,” Hickman said. That’s right, but with a caveat.
The Constitution of Maine, like the Constitution of the United States, sets the general framework for how citizens will be governed. But it does not define how these principles will be applied or authorized. It is up to the courts to resolve the problem through litigation or it is up to future legislatures to codify it into law.
Hickman, an organic farmer and longtime food safety advocate, agreed that the scope of the amendment will be defined by future court rulings. For him and other supporters, the constitutional amendment is necessary to give individuals the right to challenge restrictions on their freedom to choose their own food.
“It’s about securing a right that gives people legal status against corporate power… if and when people think their rights have been violated,” Hickman said, adding that the constitutional amendment “could be a benefit for those charged with the protection of animals “because it would also protect their personal food choices. In the case of a vegan child attending a public school in Maine that does not offer a hot vegan lunch, “you could take a class action lawsuit against a school district and say that the Maine Constitution entitles us to the food that is right for us.” , “Hickman said.” You would have some ground to stand up to as a vegetarian or vegan. “
Vegan parents might applaud such a legal status, but it worries the Maine Municipal Association, which represents cities in the state and opposes the amendment. The organization fears that its members will be the first to face prosecution if the referendum is passed and the state’s constitution is amended.
“Constitutional rights are not established until they go to court,” said Rebecca Graham, legislative counsel for the Maine Municipal Association. “Therefore, legal action should be taken to determine this right. “
Beth Gallie, who heads the Maine Animal Coalition and chairs the newly formed Political Action Committee. Both organizations are opposed to the amendment.
Gallie said if the amendment passes in the ballot, it “will potentially go above the agriculture-related laws approved by Mainers to limit inhumane conditions on farms, pollution in our communities and even the safety of farmers. workers “.
Other groups have expressed similar concerns.
“The amendment is so vague that it creates more questions than it answers,” said Robert Fisk, Jr., president of the Maine Friends of Animals, which opposes the referendum. “One example is the effect this could have on animal welfare, including non-compliance with farm animal welfare and safety laws, Maine wildlife law enforcement and even an impact on animal welfare laws and the best interests of pets. “
Graham sees an additional set of problems with the title of the amendment because in legal terms the Maine Right to Food Bill we pass in November differs from the United Nations Right to Food Declaration. food as a fundamental human rights issue. The UN considers availability, accessibility, adequacy and sustainability to be key measures of this right. Choice is not part of the UN equation. Graham said the UN principles are used by food service and food aid programs run by the Municipality of Maine.
“None of these things are protected by the wording of the bill,” Graham said of the state’s right to food referendum. “You wonder what he’s trying to accomplish. We don’t know how the courts will interpret this. It can be the exact opposite result in the process. If it is about the right to food, then enshrine these principles rather than choice. “
Gallie speculates that the promoters’ objective concerns more the “right to food sovereignty” than the “right to food”. The food sovereignty movement aims to remove state regulatory oversight on direct sales from producer to customers and on food consumed by producers themselves. Most cases of food rights restrictions relate to foods of animal origin, such as meat slaughtered at home and raw cow’s milk.
In 2017, the Maine legislature passed a Food Sovereignty Act, allowing more than 90 municipalities to pass ordinances regulating the exchange of locally grown foods. Meat of animal origin is exempt from the law, which means slaughtered animals remain subject to state pollution, slaughter, and animal welfare laws. But the constitutional amendment could give individual legal status to challenge these restrictions.
“Most Mainers have never heard of the food sovereignty movement,” said Gallie. “So in my opinion, if this is really the purpose of the amendment, it is premature for us to change the Constitution.”
Billy Bob Faulkingham, sponsor of Bill, of R-Winter Harbor, said that “this is really a change from factory farms.” Cutting back on factory farms is an attractive argument for vegans and vegetarians in Maine, but Faulkingham illustrated the rift between supporters and opponents of the amendment when he said that “animal rights groups should be right to food advocates because it will support small farmers and individuals who truly care for their animals and value their animals.
But many animal welfare advocates note that in Maine, most cases of farm animal abuse take place on small farms.
“When we see abuse, the majority of cases where animal welfare is involved in the state don’t focus on large farms,” Tirrell said. “It’s the backyard grower. People who enter into food production or animal husbandry without experience or guidance who end up negligently or intentionally not caring for their animals properly. They are backyard producers.
Supporters and opponents of the amendment share concerns about corporate influence over the food system and state restrictions on individual choice. However, they remain very distant when it comes to a possible relaxation of laws that regulate farm animal welfare. Gallie put it this way: “Animal rights activists might have things in common with food sovereignty advocates, but we would rather discuss the issues in the legislature.
Avery Yale Kamila is a food writer who lives in Portland. She can be reached at
Twitter: Avery Yale Kamila