Food Freedom

Maine's Food Sovereignty Win Is a Big Deal

Cities will be able to set local rules governing food production and sales.

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vegetable stand
Antonialorenzo

Last week Maine passed an important law that gives cities and towns in the state the option to deregulate a significant amount of food production and sales within their borders.

The so-called state "food sovereignty" law, An Act to Recognize Local Control Regarding Food Systems, declares a city or town "may regulate by ordinance local food systems, and the State shall recognize such ordinances." The law applies "only to food or food products that are grown, produced or processed by individuals within that municipality who sell directly to consumers."

The law does not cover sales outside a given city or town that has a food sovereignty ordinance in place. Neither does the law preempt federal law.

Passage of the statewide law is particularly vital because 20 local governments in Maine have already adopted food sovereignty ordinances over the past several years. But those local laws—which were trumped by state laws—had no legal effect without the new state law.

The first Maine town to adopt a food sovereignty ordinance, Sedgwick, did so in 2011.

Sedgwick's Local Food and Community Self-Governance Ordinance cites the Declaration of Independence, Maine Constitution, and Maine statutory law as support for the measure.

The broad purpose of the four-page ordinance is to secure for Sedgwick residents the ability to buy and sell foods produced locally without interference from federal or state laws or regulations.

The Sedgwick ordinance declares it "unlawful for any law or regulation adopted by the state or federal government to interfere with the rights recognized by this Ordinance."

As I detail in my recent book, Biting the Hands that Feed Us: How Fewer, Smarter Laws Would Make Our Food System More Sustainable, the food sovereignty movement emerged in Maine earlier this decade in response, in part, to a state law that required farmers who wanted to sell as little as one chicken per year to spend tens of thousands of dollars to process said chicken.

"Show me a farmer who spends $30,000 to sell $1,000 worth of food and I'll show you a farmer who's out of business," I write in Biting the Hands that Feed Us. "Food sovereignty ordinances sought to address the absurdities of laws like these."

The new statewide law changes everything in Maine for the better. It's almost certain to cause food sovereignty ordinances to spread like wildfire across Maine.

"This really clears the way for it to keep spreading from town to town to town," Jesse Watson, owner of Midcoast Permaculture Design, told the Bangor Daily News this week.

State Rep. Craig Hickman (D), who sponsored the House version of the law, has been beating the food sovereignty drum in the Maine statehouse for years.

"What the Legislature can do today is uphold these ordinances, grant them a bit of teeth, if you will, and relieve the state of Maine from using taxpayer dollars to file suit against a one-cow farmer who feeds the people in his community the food they want to eat," he said in a 2013 speech on the floor of the statehouse.

That lack of teeth was a problem. Remarks by a member of the Sedgwick town board of selectmen at a December 2011 board meeting—just months after Sedgwick passed its first-in-the-nation law—illustrated the limitations of the then-handful of food-sovereignty ordinances in the state: "The town ordinances do not supersede the state and federal laws."

In Biting the Hands that Feed Us, I referred to food sovereignty laws as more "aspirational—akin to when Key West 'seceded' from the United States in the early 1980s to form the Conch Republic—than they are binding," while noting the federal government or a state government like Maine's would be "free to punish anyone who opts out of any food-safety rules."

That happened in 2014, I explain in my book, when Maine's Supreme Court ruled the town of Blue Hill's food-sovereignty ordinance did not protect raw-milk farmer Dan Brown from having to comply with Maine's food-safety laws.

Food sovereignty is no longer aspirational. Now, it's something other cities and states should aspire to. Besides being a great law, the new Maine law is a great example of the bipsartisan (or nonpartisan, as you may prefer) nature of food laws that unshackle small producers.

The bill's key sponsors in the Maine statehouse are Democrats, while the governor who signed the bill into law is a Republican.

Other bills to deregulate local food sales—including the PRIME Act currently before the Congress and Wyoming's groundbreaking Food Freedom Act—have garnered similar bipartisan support.

The new law will face tests, no doubt, particularly in cases where local food sovereignty ordinances might bump up against federal law. This past fall, for example, USDA inspectors "showed up at a farmers market in Gillette, Wyoming, and ordered a food vendor at the market to destroy his food," I wrote in an October column highlighting Wyoming's Food Freedom Act.

Maine farmers, consumers, and lawmakers will have to be vigilant about the potential for similar actions from the USDA and FDA. But the win for food sovereignty in Maine—coupled with the spread of food freedom legislation in several Western states—takes us one step closer to ending many USDA and FDA abuses.

"In a growing number of states," I wrote in a 2015 column, "it appears the prospects for food freedom are looking brighter each day."

That was yesterday. Today, they're brighter still.

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46 responses to “Maine's Food Sovereignty Win Is a Big Deal

    1. Spam? In a food column? Might as well throw pineapple and ham on to a pizza!

      1. A ham and pineapple deep dish, chew on that.

        1. I’m making over $7k a month working part time. I kept hearing other people tell me how much money they can make online so I decided to look into it. Well, it was all true and has totally changed my life.

          This is what I do… http://www.onlinecareer10.com

        2. I’m making over $7k a month working part time. I kept hearing other people tell me how much money they can make online so I decided to look into it. Well, it was all true and has totally changed my life.

          This is what I do… http://www.onlinecareer10.com

      2. A ham and pineapple deep dish, chew on that.

      3. Now that it’s gone you look like a fool.

  1. First up, foodies, locavores, vegans and assorted crackpots pass a town ordinance decreeing no food may be sold within the city limits that does not meet the goals and standards of this 132-page sustainability manifesto, including organic, gluten-free, non-GMO, artisanal, and all the other currently-trendy buzzwords. God help you if they catch you with a single drop of high fructose corn syrup.

    1. “Food sovereignty” sounds good in theory but all I’m thinking allowing the locals to set food laws is going to wind up with is “You’re gonna eat those fucking lima beans and you’re gonna like it.”

      1. I am having brats on the grill with fresh pepper and onions from the garden today.I do like lima beans though.

      2. It’s about what can be sold and who can sell it. Remember that government doesn’t tell us what we may or may not buy. People in a “free” country would object to that. Instead it protects us from evil businesses by dictating what may or may not be sold. A distinction without a difference.

        1. “Remember that government doesn’t tell us what we may or may not buy. ”

          Um… health insurance?

      3. “Food sovereignty” sounds good in theory but all I’m thinking allowing the locals to set food laws is going to wind up with is “You’re gonna eat those fucking lima beans and you’re gonna like it.”

        Heaven forbid one of the town ‘fathers’ decides to grow zucchini; we KNOW what the town’s-folk would be eating for the next 8 months.

      4. You know what? That’s good. Might start people thinking that maybe they should pay attention to this shit closer to home instead of hoping big daddy will take care of them. That maybe because they’re ‘one city’ now that maybe they don’t *need* to continue to be. That maybe those vegan freaks over on the other side of town can do their own thing and we’ll do ours in a new town.

        And a few more politicians hanging from lamposts isn’t going to hurt anyone.

        1. And a few more politicians hanging from lamposts isn’t going to hurt anyone.

          Stop getting my hopes up.

    2. TL;DR. How is giving this giving the locals the power to DEregulate rather than regulate? Is Maine just assuming that the locals will support farmer John, rather than add rules?

      1. Decentralized power is better than centralized power. At least that way, comparisons can be made. It’s not a free market (!), but it is better.

        1. Right, if Portland decides to act like the asshats that they generally are, you can just drive 15 minutes to Saco, which is probably quicker than navigating downtown Portland anyway.

  2. The first I heard of this up here in Maine was on NPR. Their story begins by saying how this legislation makes it so that people, not corporations, can make food choices. Yes folks, when the government threatens violence on people for making certain choices, the corporations are to blame.

    1. Corporations are just groups of people together for a common goal,like a trade union. Of course,the will never admit to it.

      1. Debating Citizens United one day, I had to gently explain that, yes, League of Women Voters is indeed a corporation.

  3. This is further proof that Maine doesn’t even exist. Who’s been to Maine? Who knows anyone from or anything about Maine? Who can even name one city that’s supposed to be located in Maine? No, this is all hogwash.

    1. I drove through Maine once, supposedly. Well, my Canadian husband did and I took a nap. We stopped in a city called Portland, but that’s crazy as everyone knows Portland is in Oregon. Maine is a Canadian conspiracy to get around crazy Quebec maple syrup production rules confirmed.

      1. Still further proof of subterfuge: You’re claiming to be a woman who’s commenting at a libertarian publication. (Unless you’re a man in a same-sex marriage, which is still iffy as far as being libertarian is concerned.)

        1. I’m probably a progressive who married a Canadian just to flee Trump. Next year I can be a libertarian when I’m growing my four legal pot plants. I can’t wait!

          1. Feminist Killjoy|7.1.17 @ 2:56PM|#
            “I’m probably a progressive who married a Canadian just to flee Trump>

            If so, you’d be the only one top make good on that promise.

    2. I think Maine is a fictional location that Steven King has used in all of his novels. People started to believe that it actually exists.

    3. Well, there used to be a ship named after it, so there.

      1. I don’t remember that.

    4. There is a large Old Navy outlet there. Or, there was 15 years ago. So, they got that going for them.

  4. Ayuh, wicked good!

    Like seceding from Massachusetts, this is one law (or, anti-law, I guess), that actually makes sense.

    Smaht people up theyah.

  5. Well, it’s now after noon and I guess if nobody else is going to say it I’ll have to – Happy Birthday, Canada!

    (Not that it matters much, but I know some of Tulpa’s sockpuppets pretend to be from Canada and the rest of us sockpuppets pretend we believe Canada is an actual country.)

    Obligatory Canadian viewing, eh?

  6. This is either a great step towards actual free trade in food, or an opportunity for 1,000 small tyrants to take the place of one. I think we know where this is going.

  7. Maybe if nothing else it’ll encourage the small-scale produce farmers and the farmer’s markets like the one in the picture. Which, by the way, despite the lack of alt-text is a gorgeous shot of some of Maine’s famous pumpkin potatoes, acorn potatoes, butternut potatoes, and spaghetti potatoes. Nothing like Maine potatoes in all their varieties!

  8. Speaking of food freedom and potatoes, a judge has put a temporary injunction on Cook County implementing their soda tax. Despite the county arguing that, should the tax be found unconstitutional on the grounds that it unfairly taxes some sugary drinks but not others, it would be trivially simple for retailers to refund customers the improperly collected taxes, the judge seemed to favor the appellant retailers’ claim that, yeah, no, if we have to refund the taxes it’s going to be a gigantic clusterfuck pain in the ass.

  9. RE: Maine’s Food Sovereignty Win Is a Big Deal
    Cities will be able to set local rules governing food production and sales.

    What?
    Not allowing Big Brother in DC to decide to set production and sales of food smacks of liberty, freedom and independence from The State.
    Such a decision will only further deteriorate The State’s power over all us little people and could lead to such counter-revolutionary actions as thinking and making decisions for ourselves.
    Oh, the horror!
    The horror!

  10. When it comes time to throw commies out of helicopters I hope they first run a dress rehearsal with everybody at the Cato Institute

    1. Aw, was SIV “triggered” by those meanie “cucks” and can’t find his “safe space”
      We have Hihn and SIV who are forever victims of those who don’t agree with them in all particulars. You’re in good company, SIV.

      1. Yeah, you’re right. We need more high paying government jobs with better benefits so Black Americans can enjoy what privileged whites, who win life’s lottery, take from them in the private sector. It’s the “libertarian way”. Positive rights and public employment for the oppressed.

        1. SIV|7.2.17 @ 12:35AM|#
          “Yeah, you’re right. We need more high paying government jobs with better benefits so Black Americans can enjoy what privileged whites, who win life’s lottery, take from them in the private sector. It’s the “libertarian way”. Positive rights and public employment for the oppressed.”

          Care to even TRY to make that asinine statement somehow relate to the link you posted?
          What a fucking ignoramus.
          Go suck a cuck, cuck sucker. And find your ‘safe space’, weeny.

          1. The author of the tweet links to his essay saying exactly that. I’m not going to sponsor literacy lessons for you , grandpaw

    2. “It is not enough to be passively “not racist” ? libertarians must be actively anti-racism.”

      Just poorly worded. Suggest:

      Libertarianism is best practiced by actively opposing racism. (and other collectivisms)

  11. I can’t wait for the first town that has a pig farm (downwind) to require only pork be sold in the local markets. There will be a race to see if the first lawsuit is from a Muslim, a Jew, or a vegan.

  12. That local regulation can only be applied to “food or food products that are grown, produced or processed by individuals within that municipality who sell directly to consumers.” will prove a great moderation to any totalitarian impulses.

    As with many of these things my only major gripe is that they still only represent permission, and not actual liberty.

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