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Maine Food Sovereignty Bends but Doesn’t Break After USDA Threats

Law amended to make sure meat processors comply with federal regulations.

meat processingTanat Loungtip / DreamstimeThis past June, Maine legislators passed a law, An Act to Recognize Local Control Regarding Food Systems, which allows cities and towns in the state to adopt laws permitting farmers and other food producers within their borders to engage in a host of direct-to-consumer food sales. The law, intended to bolster local food economies in the state, allows Maine municipalities to "regulate by ordinance local food systems," and requires the state, in turn, to "recognize such ordinances."

While the act was intended to protect people like the "one-cow farmer who feeds the people in his community the food they want to eat," its protections had limits.

"The law does not cover sales outside a given city or town that has a food sovereignty ordinance in place," I wrote in a column shortly after the law passed. "Neither does the law pre-empt federal law."

And it's that latter area that got Maine into hot water with the federal government, before the law ever took effect.

"Maine's Department of Agriculture is concerned that the law would keep it from inspecting any meat slaughtered and processed in a town that is food sovereign, negating an agreement it has with the USDA to meet federal standards," the Portland Press Herald reported last week.

Indeed, threats made by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) against the state forced Maine lawmakers this week to amend its food-sovereignty law.

In a July 6 letter from USDA to Maine's agriculture department, the federal agency threatened to pull its approval of slaughterhouses in the state, which could have temporarily shuttered five facilities in Maine and left Maine livestock farmers scrambling to find available out-of-state slaughter options.

The letter, written by the USDA's Alfred Almanza, says the agency is "concerned that the Food Sovereignty Act, if implemented as currently written, would contravene Federal food safety laws and regulations."

The USDA also threatened Maine—one of 27 states to run its own meat inspection system—with federalization of its slaughter regime.

At an emergency legislative session this week, Maine lawmakers amended the law to require cities and towns that adopt new ordinances under the Food Sovereignty Act to "comply with state and federal laws when developing local ordinances for meat and poultry production and sales."

That followed a committee vote to amend the law last week.

While the Press Herald contends "[t]he cause of the problem is [Maine's] food sovereignty bill," that's not really the case. The causes (plural) of the problem reside in Washington. These causes are the USDA, Congress, and the Supreme Court.

Maine's food sovereignty movement arose earlier this decade as a response to a state law requiring even the smallest poultry farmers to invest tens of thousands of dollars on needless processing costs.

"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 my recent book, Biting the Hands that Feed Us: How Fewer, Smarter Laws Would Make Our Food System More Sustainable. "Food sovereignty ordinances sought to address the absurdities of laws like these."

The idea that local farmers might butcher and process their own meat for commercial sale—or use a local abattoir to do the same—rubbed the USDA all wrong. That's because of a 1967 federal law that granted the USDA ultimate oversight of all beef, poultry, and pork processing for commercial sale. While the USDA does carve out a few exceptions—for farmers who don't intend to sell their meat to a grocer or restaurant or other commercial outlet and instead sell to, for example, bulk meat to an individual buyer—few can use a custom, non-USDA slaughterhouse.

If it sounds bizarre to you that the USDA will fight for its power to regulate the sale of a single steak in some rural Maine town, that's not the half of it. The fact a law even exists that makes the USDA even believe the agency has such power is one part of the real problem.

It's not just Congress's fault, though. According to the Supreme Court, almost everything—including baking a loaf of bread at home for your family—is interstate commerce.

I may not like the way the federal government regulates interstate commerce in meats and meat products. Put another way, I don't like it. But that doesn't mean the federal government doesn't have plenary power to regulate these sales if it so chooses. It does. The Constitution, including particularly the Commerce Clause, speak clearly on this.

But intrastate commerce is not interstate commerce. Maine's Food Sovereignty law clearly and only pertains to the former.

"The new law will face tests, no doubt, particularly in cases where local food sovereignty ordinances might bump up against federal law," I wrote of Maine's Food Sovereignty Act in my July column. "Maine farmers, consumers, and lawmakers will have to be vigilant about the potential for [incursions] from the USDA and FDA."

Those incursions happened. Rather than repeal the law, though, as the USDA no doubt would have preferred, Maine lawmakers amended it to allow the law—and farmers and local food communities in the state—the opportunity to thrive. The Food Sovereignty Act faced its first test, and it survived.

Photo Credit: Tanat Loungtip / Dreamstime

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  • Crusty Juggler||

    But that doesn't mean the federal government doesn't have plenary power to regulate these sales if it so chooses. It does. The Constitution, including particularly the Commerce Clause, speak clearly on this.

    Commerce Clause > individual liberty.

  • <Unpastable>||

    There is no individual right to slaughter.

  • Brendan||

    There's also no power granted to them to stop me from slaughtering or regulating how I do it.

  • HillTown Trader||

    And you base your statement on what?

  • Mitsima||

    "... with foreign Nations, and among [not 'within'] the several States, and with the Indian Tribes."

    And that, boys & girls, is why literacy is anathema to a public education.

  • gah87||

    Make that "government-controlled public education." A public education devoid of government control would find literacy quite a sensible goal.

  • <Unpastable>||

    "public education devoid of govt control"

    AKA unobtainium-encrusted golden unicorn

  • <Unpastable>||

    Everybody here always leaves out the blanket statement at the end of A1S8:

    "...To make all Laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into Execution the foregoing Powers"

    If certain types of intrastate commerce can blunt the effectiveness of interstate commerce regulation, then they are subject to regulation themselves.

  • Dan S.||

    Has any court ever said exactly that? I doubt it. But it is interesting that the "necessary and proper" clause you quote is something that a lot of people worried about in the early days of our Republic, but no one seems to have noticed the dangers inherent in the Commerce Clause.

  • Mitsima||

    So "necessary and proper" + "the general welfare" invalidate all the other words in the Constitution. Interesting.

  • Crusty Juggler||

  • SQRLSY One||

    Answer seems to me, to be that in both cases, they make a lot of "OT" posts... As a Scienfoologist, I used to think that "OT" meant "Operating Thetan", but yes, I have now learned better...

    So in your OT link, I see that I can go to a porn site and get OT posts so that I can learn how to cook (roast) crunchier salted chickens... Cool... However, for stupid site-visitors that are looking to "choke their chicken", they might get all excited and end up roasting their salted chicken instead, that could be DANGEROUS! Government Almighty should be DOING SOMETHING about the potential dangers here! False advertising, and stuff!!!!

    BTW, what sites are best to go and find OT posts about getting Government Almighty to FUCK OFF and GET OUT OF MY LIFE?!?!?

  • SQRLSY One||

    (Besides Crusty Juggler I mean... )

    Do you know who else was falsely beguiled onto a web site, lured only into luridly salting and roasting his already-choked chicken?

  • Get To Da Chippah||

    A love of big ol' titties?

  • BestUsedCarSales||

    HM alone and by sheer force of will makes Glibertarians an Ass Man's Haven.

  • Robert||

    Would PornHub kick me off as quickly? I still can't figure out what they had against me at Glib.

  • GILMORE™||

    Big Black Cocks?

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    Where do states get off thinking they can challenge federal regulatory capture.

  • Crusty Juggler||

  • Get To Da Chippah||

    I saw that. Sad.

  • Hank Phillips||

    Gosh, I'm gonna MISS those lying toadies!

  • SQRLSY One||

    This link isn't working right for me, ah dunno what is wrong, maybe it is me...

  • Crusty Juggler||

  • Crusty Juggler||

  • lap83||

    because local newspapers can't use internal links to improve SEO?

  • Sevo||

    Is this the AM Lynx?
    "Conservative site first hired firm behind dossier on Trump-Russia ties"
    [...]
    (Oops)""None of the work product that the Free Beacon received appears in the Steele dossier," said the statement from Free Beacon editor in chief Mathew Continetti and chairman Michael Goldfarb. "We stand by our reporting and we do not apologize for our methods."
    http://www.sfchronicle.com/nat.....313063.php

    See? See? It wasn't the hag!

  • <Unpastable>||

    The Voxsplainers provide a good summary of the leftist "arguments" as to why the Clinton collusion scandal

    1. Republicans funded Steele first, so that makes any later funding by Clinton irrelevant.
    2. The stuff that there is evidence that Clinton did is not as bad as the stuff that there is no evidence that Trump did.
    3. Some of the accusations against Trump did not originate in the Steele dossier, therefore Clinton funding it is irrelevant.

    Spaghetti 3, Wall 0.

  • Libertarian||

    Free Beacon funded Fusion gps, not Steele.

  • AlmightyJB||

    So the media will be spending all of their time talking about this story all week I'm sure

  • Sevo||

    From the link:
    "...the truly interesting question to be answered is what they're being charged with. As far as I know there still aren't any laws on the books against Talking To Russians, so it would have to be something else."
    THIS is what I've been trying to get Tony to specify for months.

  • AlmightyJB||

    I don't know why you bother with Tony. Seems like a waste of time.

  • <Unpastable>||

    Failure to register as a foreign agent would be my guess.

    Or some obscure financial crime.

  • AlmightyJB||

    Doesn't matter how minor it is. The media will blow it up and will use it as "proof" of Trump's illegitimacy as President.

  • Sevo||

    And Tom Steyer want's to impeach him 'cause he's a big poopyhead!:
    "'This Administration Doesn't Have a Clue.'"
    http://time.com/5001180/donald.....om-steyer/

    I'm pleased Tom is wasting millions in a pretty successful effort to show HE doesn't have a clue.

  • cjcoats||

    Why is not Alfred Almanza's letter Extortion under Color of Office?

    IMNHO, he should not be permitted to use sovereign immunity to avoid civil-lawsuit consequences...

  • <Unpastable>||

    MLB has its own racial problems now. White Hispanic Yuli Gurriel made a Japanese face in the dugout after hitting a HR off Yu Darvish. MLB is mulling whether to suspend him.

    Kapernick was right!

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    What's a white Hispanic?

    Answer: a problematic Hispanic

  • Longtobefree||

    Kapernick is very left.

  • Juice||

    the federal agency threatened to pull its approval of slaughterhouses in the state, which could have temporarily shuttered five facilities in Maine and left Maine livestock farmers scrambling to find available out-of-state slaughter options

    That's only if their pussies.

  • <Unpastable>||

    Or sheep. And you'd think they know what happens to sheep, since they're the ones who do it.

  • Juice||

    You're supposed to say "only if their pussies what?"

  • Juice||

    I may not like the way the federal government regulates interstate commerce in meats and meat products

    But this isn't interstate commerce.

  • <Unpastable>||

    SLaughter is the best medicine.

  • Crusty Juggler||

  • Crusty Juggler||

  • Crusty Juggler||

  • lap83||

    after he invited them to 'audition' in his hotel room

    I am in no way trying to victim-blame, but maybe..just maybe...legitimate auditions don't happen in the hotel rooms of sleazy directors

  • Eidde||

    Who said anything about *legitimate* auditions?

  • Hank Phillips||

    Here is a chance to persuade Maine voters to "go over the heads of the congressmen and senators" by voting libertarian. Asa Phillip Randolph suggested the same tactic to pass Kennedy's Civil Rights bill. The looter kleptocracy will do absolutely anything--legalize plants, stop arresting gay people, cut taxes and regulations--if that's what it takes to keep libertarians out of their exclusive clubs in the House and Senate. And all it would take is an uptick in libertarian spoiler votes. There is no clearer way to send a message to politicians than casting a libertarian vote.

  • Telcontar the Wanderer||

    "According to the Supreme Court, almost everything—including baking a loaf of bread at home for your family—is interstate commerce."

    +1 General Secretary of the Politburo

  • Longtobefree||

    Well, why not. If an unconstitutional fine is a constitutional tax, why isn't intrastate interstate?
    It's just words, after all.

  • Telcontar the Wanderer||

    +1 letter "e"
    -1 letter "a"

  • Jerryskids||

    Holy shit what a comeback! Go Bucks!

  • BestUsedCarSales||

    Thanks. It's weird that you knew I was playing video games, but I appreciate the support.

  • Eidde||

    "A former South Carolina police officer fired after a photo of him posing in Confederate flag underwear appeared online has settled a wrongful termination lawsuit....

    "...[Shannon Dildine] said the city discriminated against him. He said a black officer wasn't disciplined for posing with Black Lives Matter protesters."

  • <Unpastable>||

    Wait, he's being punished for disrespecting the Confed flag?

  • Eidde||

    I hope he doesn't defile the flag every time a dog startles him.

  • Eidde||

  • Eidde||

  • Telcontar the Wanderer||

    #1: boring

    #2: how the hell did she come up with that...?

    #3: hell, who can blame him for scooping her off the line into the death camp?

    #4: ...woooaaaaaahhhhhh.

  • BestUsedCarSales||

    I'm bother by the Aborted Baby one, because that's not really an aborted baby in the sense anyone would think of it.

  • Eidde||

    I can't really top that last list as far as offensiveness goes, but this is still offensive (and is the article's author being a bit tongue-in-cheek?)

  • Bra Ket||

    While the act was intended to protect people like the "one-cow farmer who feeds the people in his community the food they want to eat," its protections had limits.

    Well as long as the law is carefully written enough so as not to get exploited by greedy corporations who are only interested in profits.

  • Longtobefree||

    But after the sale, he is a 'no cow farmer', and not worthy of protection.

  • Eman||

    Enough already, I get it, you're wondering if I know what else bends but doesn't break. Do you even have to ask?

  • HillTown Trader||

    This issue is HUGE in my area. USDA inspector are very very expensive and they do not work part time or share locations. Packers have to hire them full time, even if the demand is seasonal or part time.

    Although I probably drive past 40 sheep and cattle operations on my way to the grocery store, I am required to buy a whole cow or sheep and haul it to the custom butcher to be able to support local farmers.

    A farmer gets about $$100 dollars for a lamb after a year's investment. The custom packing house charges another $100 to butcher. A USDA operation charges $250 for the same service. Consider how little the farmer gets, where as the inspector earns the same of about one hours work.

    In rural areas, custom butchers might only have work part of the time, or might see a surge in the fall. USDA prohibits employees from working at one site for a couple of days a week and the switching to another the rest of the time. Its like USDA mandates only large operations exist, discriminating against the little guys.

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