PORTLAND, Maine (AP) — Maine voters passed the nation’s first “right to food” constitutional amendment on Tuesday.
A statewide referendum asked voters if they favored an amendment to the Maine Constitution “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.” It was an experiment not tried before by any state.
Supporters used the campaign to make the case the amendment would ensure the right to grow vegetables and raise livestock in an era when corporatization threatens local ownership of the food supply. They positioned the amendment as a chance for Mainers to wrestle control of the food supply back from large landowners and giant retailers with little connection to the community.
Opponents cast the drive as deceptively vague. They also said it represented a threat to food safety and animal welfare, and could encourage residents to try to raise cows in their backyards in cities like Portland and Bangor.
Sen. Craig Hickman, a Democrat and longtime supporter of the amendment, said he was “inspired this legislative session by the amount of bipartisanship that went into this amendment.” He also said the measure resonated with Maine voters.
The Maine Legislature previously approved the proposal by a wide margin, but it also needed the approval of voters.
“It’s always a good idea to secure and protect an individual right in the world we live in. Food is life,” said Hickman. “I don’t understand why anyone would be afraid of saying so out loud in the constitution."
The proposed amendment was the result of effort by members of the state’s food sovereignty movement. The movement includes small farmers, raw milk fans, libertarians, liberals and anti-corporate activists who all feel local communities should have more of a say in the future of the food supply.
Maine enacted a food sovereignty law, the nation’s first of its kind, in 2017. That law allows local governments to OK small food producers selling directly to customers on site. Other states around the country have passed similar laws in the years since Maine passed its law.
The Maine Farm Bureau, the largest farming advocacy group in the state, opposed the new constitutional amendment. The group's leader said Tuesday the bureau respected the will of voters.
“Maine Farm Bureau is prepared to support Maine farmers as this amendment is enacted and, as always, stands clear in its resolve to protect and embrace food safety and animal welfare as a standard for all Mainers,” said the bureau's executive director, Julie Ann Smith.