IMPORTANT: LD 783 Is Not Dead

March 25, 2016

From our ever stalwart Local Food RULES activist Bonnie Preston:

After a couple of days of being really bummed out about the Senate vote on the Constitutional amendment bill (LD 783), I am thrilled to report that it is not dead. It was rushed through the Senate without any discussion, after caucus meetings (both parties) that were very negative and filled with misinformation and invective. The House has now insisted to the Senate that they hold a proper session, with floor speeches and discussion, and “recede and concur.” in essence, hold another vote. This likely will happen on Monday.

We have the weekend to flood Senators with e-mails and phone calls. Representatives Craig Hickman, Karl Ward and Don Marean all made floor speeches in the House which were heartfelt and rousing. They are at least a part of why we won in the house with the overwhelming numbers that we did. Thank you messages to these three would be really nice! Karl and Don are both GOP. Craig is a Democrat and the originator of the bill. Bipartisanship at its best.

Check this list of Senate votes, remembering that a No vote is on our side and a Yes vote is not–note that the motion was to accept the minority report. If your Senator voted with us, thank them and ask if they will talk to others in their party who may have voted against us about changing their vote. If your Senator voted on the wrong side, ask him or her to reconsider and give your reasons. If they will be running for reelection in Nov., let them know this is a vote you will take very seriously when making your decision on who to vote for.

We won this in the House; now let’s win it in the Senate!

Bonnie


Protect Food Freedom in Maine’s Constitution Now

March 9, 2016

  Do we have the freedom of choice about how and where we acquire food for our own nourishment, sustenance, bodily health and well-being?

Of course we do. These rights are as natural, inherent, and unalienable as the rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Ultimately, each of us deserves the freedom to work out our own nutrition and food regimen. You might be surprised to find out, however, that these rights are not protected by the constitution, nor are they recognized by U.S. courts, nor by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
“Food is Life. Do we have a right to obtain the food we wish, or don’t we? It’s really that simple. Let’s put it in black and white. Let’s put it in writing.”

  

—Rep. Craig Hickman, Bill Sponsor of LD 783
With your help, Maine could become the first state in the nation to provide constitutional protection for our right to obtain the food we wish to eat, to grow and produce food for our own sustenance, and the right to save and exchange seed.

TAKE ACTION: Please tell Maine lawmakers to let the people decide on our right to choose where and how we acquire food for our own nourishment, sustenance, bodily health and well-being. Tell Maine lawmakers to let LD 783, RESOLUTION, Proposing an Amendment to Constitution of Maine to Establish a Right to Food Freedom and Food Self-Sufficiency go to the ballot box for ratification in November.

Why do we need to amend the Constitution of Maine to include food rights in our state’s Declaration of Rights?

In a 2010 District Court case, the FDA explicitly stated that we do not possess these natural, inherent, and unalienable rights.

“There is no absolute right to consume or feed children any particular food.”

“There is no ‘deeply rooted’ historical tradition of unfettered access to foods of all kinds.”

“[The] assertion of a fundamental right to their own bodily and physical health…is unavailing because [consumers] do not have a fundamental right to obtain any food they wish.”

Food lawyer Peter Hutt states, “The constitutional authority of the government to determine the food that can lawfully be marketed, and the constitutional right of the individual to personal freedom and control over his own destiny, will at some juncture inevitably conflict.” 

That day of conflict has arrived and we have the opportunity to make this moment of conflict transformational with the proposed constitutional amendment:

Section 25. Right to food freedom and food self-sufficiency. All individuals have a natural, inherent and unalienable right to acquire, produce, process, prepare, preserve and consume the food of their own choosing, for their own nourishment and sustenance, by hunting, gathering, foraging, farming, fishing, gardening and saving and exchanging seeds, as long as no individual commits trespassing, theft, poaching or other abuses of private property rights, public lands or natural resources in the acquisition of food. Furthermore, all individuals have a right to barter, trade and purchase food from the sources of their own choosing for their own bodily health and well-being. Every individual is fully responsible for the exercise of these rights, which may not be infringed.

TAKE ACTION NOW: LD 783 needs a 2/3 vote in both the House of Representatives and the Senate in order to put the question on the ballot this November. Tell Maine lawmakers that you want them to send LD 783 to the voters and let the People decide. 

A brief history of LD 783 and current updates: In the First Regular Session of the Maine Legislature last spring, Rep. Craig Hickman, a farmer in Winthrop, introduced LD 783 to add the right to food to Maine’s Declaration of Rights. Hundreds of Maine citizens showed up on the day of the public hearing and dozens offered testimony in favor of LD 783. The bill was carried over to the Second Regular Session to address concerns raised by some legislators and citizens that this bill could somehow be misconstrued to grant greater governmental authority over providing food to people, rather than securing and protecting individual rights. Or that it would promote trespassing, stealing, poaching and other abuses of private property rights. Even though no one interprets the right to keep and bear arms to mean the state must provide all people with firearms or that people have a right to steal firearms, all concerns were taken seriously and considered. In other words, the bill needed some time to ferment. In the period between sessions, Rep. Hickman sought input from Republicans and Democrats, Independents and Libertarians, conservatives and progressives, allies and foes, farmers and fishermen, chefs, cottage food producers, homesteaders and lawyers until the language was right. Like a big community pig roast barbecue, the amended version is the collaborative effort of many. 

Here’s what happened at the work session on February 4, 2016: Rep. Hickman struck his first proposal for the constitutional amendment and replaced it with an amendment that better reflects the voices of the People. LD 783 was amended into a proposal to establish a constitutional right to food freedom and food self-sufficiency, explicitly prohibiting theft, trespassing, poaching, or other abuses of private property rights, public lands or natural resources in the acquisition of food. Now, representing the input of both allies and opponents, LD 783 won committee support in a bipartisan majority Ought to Pass as Amended Report, 8 voting in favor of the motion, and 5 against. Voting with Rep. Hickman in favor of the majority report were Sen. James Dill of Old Town, Sen. Thomas Saviello of Wilton, Rep. Ralph Chapman of Brooksville, Rep. Michelle Dunphy of Old Town, Rep. Donald Marean of Hollis, Rep. Jeffrey McCabe of Skowhegan, and Rep. Robert Saucier of Presque Isle. We thank them for their votes.

Testimony Against. Although LD 783 does not amend or invalidate any food safety laws or regulations currently on the books, the Director of the Bureau of Agriculture, Food and Rural Resources in the Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry (DACF) testified against the bill at the public hearing last session, arguing that it would interfere with commercial farming but provided no evidence to support the claim. The representative from the Maine Farm Bureau testified against the bill suggesting that people who are harmed by hunger and poor nutrition need to depend more on food banks, not food self-sufficiency. This testimony plays right into the hands of the disempowering forces of programs rather than self-help, responsible liberty. More food choice, more food producers, and more community-embedded food options increase food production, food access and availability, food price competition, and ultimately benefits everyone, including the hungry. To assume that the most efficacious way to help the hungry is with more food banks promotes dependency and top-down policies.

On the day of the committee vote, DACF representatives urged committee members to oppose the measure making the claim that the department wouldn’t be able to enforce food safety regulations. Only a court could decide that, not the department, and only if an individual or group of individuals challenged a regulation in court. A cadre of lobbyists from the Big Food industry lobbied committee members hard to oppose the measure, doubling down on their claim that it would hurt Maine’s reputation and make Maine-produced food less marketable outside the state. Declaring a fundamental right to food choice and to our health could make Maine food less marketable? That’s a fear-based claim that just doesn’t make sense. Sen. Edgecomb of Caribou, Rep. Russell Black of Wilton, Rep. Anthony Edgecomb of Fairfield, Rep. MaryAnne Kinney of Knox, and Rep. Carol McElwee of Caribou all voted against the bill. Please call on these lawmakers to do the will of the People who testified in favor of the bill by voting FOR the Right to Food Freedom and Food Self-Sufficiency. Tell them that we want the chance to vote on this constitutional amendment at the ballot box. 

Here is how the question will read on the ballot:
“Do you favor amending the Constitution of Maine to declare that all individuals have a natural, inherent and unalienable right to acquire, produce, process, prepare, preserve and consume the food of their own choosing for their own nourishment and sustenance and to barter, trade and purchase food from the sources of their own choosing for their own bodily health and well-being?”
Tell your State Representatives and your Senators to let the People say YES. 

 

Some of the voices who came to testify at last spring’s public hearing offer us good reasons to share with legislators on the importance and urgency of amending the Maine Constitution to add food freedom to our Declaration of Rights:
Rep. Craig Hickman of Winthrop, Maine, Sponsor of LD 783:

“Establishing a right to acquire the food of our choosing gives us, the People, legal ground to protect our own health, our property, our food and our lives. Just like the other rights declared in Article I of our Constitution, the right to food is a fundamental liberty right. It is a right increasingly infringed. If we protect it in our constitution, the strength of the law shifts, away from corporatist and government control of our food and our health and toward the People.

“There is nothing more intimate than eating. Who, other than you, should decide what you are allowed to eat for your own nourishment and sustenance?

“Let us stand on solid ground and establish legal protection for our health, for our happiness, for our liberty.”

 

Joel Salatin, Ecological Farming Guru at Polyface Farms in Virginia:

“The only reason the Founders of our Great Republic did not include food rights alongside the right to bear arms, to speak, and to worship was because no one at that time could have envisioned a day when citizens could not acquire the food of their choice from the source of their choice….
 “I can’t imagine a more basic human right, a more bipartisan issue, than protecting my right to choose my body’s food. Who could possibly think that such freedom of choice should be denied? We allow people to smoke, shoot, preach, home educate, spray their yards with chemicals, buy lottery tickets, and read about the Kardashians: wouldn’t you think we could let people choose their own food?
“It comes down to autonomous personhood. If I don’t have the freedom to feed my three-trillion-member internal community of microbes in the manner I choose, then the infringement of other rights, such as freedom of the press and freedom of religion, can’t be far behind.”
(Mr. Salatin flew north to offer testimony on this important opportunity to protect our food rights)
Hendrik Gideonse, Brooklin, Maine, on why we need this protection now:

“Adding an enabling right to acquire, barter, trade and purchase foods of our choosing for our own sustenance and health to the existing right to life and liberty would cloak our individual food choices in fundamental law. It would safeguard us against the actions of misguided corporations and government agencies seeking to keep us ill-informed about what we’re eating or against absurd claims, such as the Food and Drug Administration made in 2010, that people have no ‘fundamental right to their own bodily and physical health… because [consumers] do not have a fundamental right to obtain any food they wish.”
Joy Metcalf, Northport, Maine, on why LD 783 is so important:

“What is more fundamental to life than food, and what is more fundamental than the liberty to choose what foods we want to nourish our bodies and our families?”
Heather Retberg, Penobscot, Maine, on why the time is ripe for LD 783:

“Our access to food, our right to life, our right to the founding of life, seed, is increasingly legally controlled by corporate food monopolies. And when they sue, the law is often on their side. People lose. We lose our access to food, to food integrity, to our own bodily and physical health.
“LD 783 gives the people legal standing in court. It gives us legal protection when there are aggressive lawsuits that inhibit our ability to access healthy food or to grow food of our choosing. The time has come when we need this articulated and protected under Maine’s constitution.”
David Berg, Esq.:

“Food choice is not a new right; it is a right and a practice as old as civilization. It allows us to define our own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.”
Peter Hutt, food lawyer & David Berg, Esq.:

“Since we are free to choose or reject many other risks, it is difficult for the public to perceive why we should not also be free to choose, on an individual basis, the risks that we will accept in the food we eat. All forms of living entail some amount of risk. To the extent that eating is (…) risky, it should be for the consumer to determine how much governmental protection and how much risk she wants.”
Betsy Garrold, Knox, Maine, on the importance of the right to food:

“The right to procure healthy and nutritious food, by which life may be preserved and enjoyed, and to manufacture it, is among these inalienable rights, which…..no state can give, and no state can take away; it is involved in the right to pursue one’s happiness.”
ACT NOW to protect food freedom, food self-sufficiency, and our own health. Tell your State Representatives and Senators to let the People say YES on LD 783.  
Thank you for taking action.  


THE RIGHT TO FOOD FREEDOM; FOOD SELF-SUFFICIENCY; BODILY HEALTH AND WELL-BEING

February 15, 2016

by Heather Retberg

 

A work session of the Joint Standing Committee on Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry on February 4th, turned a long shot proposal for a constitutional amendment into a fighting chance for establishing a right to food in Maine.  

While political tricks and lobbying acrobatics of past sessions have blocked food sovereignty bills and the bills that would have re-legitimized the direct exchange of food, the current bill proposal, LD 783, works differently. What we’ve experienced up until now has been a collusion of the Big Food Lobby with the Department of Agriculture to block bills that create or protect the legal space around small, diversified farms and facilitate access to real food. The threat of executive veto overshadowed the process and the lobbyists have always amplified this potential outcome. They have had success in stripping some of the small-farm friendly bills of food sovereignty and/or food freedom components by making threats about what might happen “on the 2nd floor” (read: the Governor’s office).
The Resolution to Propose an Amendment to Maine’s Constitution to Establish a Right to Food works differently than the bills to enact a law. Because LD 783 is a constitutional amendment, the role for the Governor is to proclaim the results of an eventual referendum vote on the proposal. There is no veto provision. There is one less weapon in the Big Food Lobby arsenal. The first step, like with other bills, is a public hearing before the committee of jurisdiction, in this case the Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Committee. If it receives an “ought to pass” vote, it faces the tough task of passing by 2/3 majority vote in both House and Senate. If LD 783 succeeds in securing this majority, it goes to us, the people of Maine, to vote on in November’s election. This process is all about the people and our representatives in the legislature.

Now, given all that as context…the committee room was plenty full of the Big Food Lobby at the work session earlier this month. Though there is no regulatory impact of enacting a constitutional protection for the right to food, the Department of Agriculture was also heavily represented. The room was also plenty full of citizens and a few farming organizations, Food for Maine’s Future and MOFGA, paying attention to the process and talking to legislators who have, over time, come to respect and understand our efforts.  

 

The bill’s sponsor and House Chair of the ACF Committee, Rep. Craig Hickman, gave a detailed and articulate explanation of the bill and reasoning for passage. He clarified the distinction between a law and enacting a constitutional protection of an inherent right. People across the state had been writing letters over the course of the week to the committee reminding them of the importance and urgency of this bill, asking for their positive vote to send it out to the people to vote on in November.  

 

After a brief discussion, the Republicans moved to caucus behind closed doors. This is never a good sign. The department officials moved to join them. This is an even more alarming sign. It looked like a partisan effort to kill the bill–a re-run of what had been attempted last session. This time, however, a few things went differently. When they all emerged from the room after too long a while, the department officials looked ashen. Two of the party weren’t going to allow the right to food to become a partisan issue (HOORAY for Rep. Marean and Sen. Saviello!), but were going to vote on the issues at hand. They had really listened to the public last spring, read the many letters, understood and responded. That meant LD 783 would get enough votes to pass!  

 

 

Some mysteries still remain. Why did Rep. Russell Black, the ranking Republican on the ACF Committee, co-sponsor this legislation last spring, then vote against it this winter? In a response to a constituent who posed that question, he stated that “the Dep’t. Of Ag was against it.” But, who is responsible for making the laws in Maine? The agencies? And should our elected representatives serve their needs/interests? This is democracy running backwards. The representatives should be serving the needs/interests of their constituents, people, not agencies. The agencies’ role is then to carry out the will of the people as passed through the legislature and committee of oversight, not the other way around.   
When the vote was taken, the bill received a majority “ought to pass” vote. It was a split vote (8-5), but that gives LD 783 a fighting chance on the floor of both houses. It remains an uphill battle, but LD 783 cleared the first hurdle. February 4th was a day of victory for access to real food and food rights!

Please encourage your representatives and senators to vote to support the majority report on LD 783 and send it to the people.  

 

Let the people decide. Onward. One step at a time.

  
People rally outside the capitol last spring for the Right to Food(LD 783) and the Right to Know

(LD 991).
“Ultimately, each of us deserves the freedom to work out our own nutrition and food regimen.”

  –Joel Salatin on LD 783 Proposing an Amendment to the Constitution of Maine to Establish a Right to Food

 

 

The text of LD 783 is below:

Sect. 25. Right to food freedom; food self-sufficiency; bodily health and well-being. All individuals have a natural, inherent and unalienable right to acquire, produce, process, prepare, preserve and consume food of their own choosing, for their own nourishment and sustenance, by hunting, gathering, foraging, farming, fishing, gardening or saving and exchanging seeds, provided that

no individual commits trespassing, theft, poaching or other abuses of private property rights, public lands or natural resources in the acquisition of food; furthermore, all individuals have a right to barter, trade or purchase food from the sources of their own choosing, for their own bodily health and well-being; and every individual is fully responsible for the exercise of these rights, which may not be infringed.


Raw Milk–Raw Nerves

March 28, 2015

 

 

  At the work session on Thursday March 9th 2015 the Joint Standing Committee on Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry listened to their committee analyst regarding the two raw milk bills under consideration this session and then adjourned to party caucuses without any discussion of the bills.   They reconvened and, with the Republican half of the committee refusing to table the bill, voted them both out of committee “ought not to pass” on a straight party line vote with one Republican Senator absent.    Thus the vote was tied and the bills will move forward to a full legislative vote on a divided committee report.  What this means is that the Republicans successfully thwarted any effort to discuss this bill.   Civil discussion of our differences of opinion, a bedrock principle of any participatory form of government, denied.

Representative Saucier and Representative Chapman did attempt to start the discussion but they were mostly ignored and the votes were called.

At the public hearings the week before there was testimony presented on both sided of the issue.  Last year, the governor pledged support for a direct sales raw milk bill so long as farmers’ markets weren’t included.  The fact that the vote was straight party line, and that there was much arm twisting going on in the hallway by a former member of the committee, proves this is not the case.   This particular former committee member has stated publicly that it is his mission to block anything we try to do this year.   He has established himself as the Governor’s mouthpiece on these issues thus dashing any hope of there not being a veto if either bill gets through the legislature.

And so we move on to other more hopeful bills.   Including Representative Chapman’s bill LD 925 An Act To Promote Small Diversified Farms and Small Food Producers.  No public hearing has been scheduled for this bill  yet.   Stay tuned.


Rep. Hickman introduces bill establishing a right to food

March 17, 2015

For Immediate Release

March 16, 2015

 



Rep. Hickman introduces bill establishing a right to food

Maine has New England’s highest rate of food insecurity

 

AUGUSTA – A bill to establish a constitutional amendment declaring that every individual has a natural and unalienable right to food will be heard before the Legislature in the coming weeks

 

Rep. Craig Hickman, D-Winthrop, has introduced a resolution that would amend Maine’s Constitution to address the issues of food security and food self-sufficiency in Maine. 

 

Food is life,” said Hickman. “I believe that access to wholesome food is a right for every individual. When one in four children among us goes to bed hungry every night, we must dobetterWe cannot allow a single one of us to go hungry for a single dayMaine has all the natural resources and the hard-working, independent-spirited people to grow, catch, forage, process, prepare and distribute enough food to feed ourselves and strengthen our local economies. Let us stop importing more food per capita than any other state on the continent.”

 

Because the bill proposes to amend the Constitution, two thirds of the Legislature will need to approve the resolution and send it to the people for a vote in the next statewide election.

 

With more than 84,000 hungry children, Maine has New England’s highest rate of food insecurity, according to the USDA

 

There is nothing more intimate than eating,” Hickman said. “People are demanding access to the kinds of food that they determine are best for their own health and the health of their familiesFood is lifeThis resolution declares that all individuals have a right to the food of their own choosing and that they be personally responsible for the exercise of this right. I believe that the good people of Maine, if given a chance at the ballot box, will resoundingly agree.”

 

The bill was referred to the Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Committee, where it will receive a public hearing in the coming weeks. 

 

Hickman is an organic farmer and House chair of the Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Committee.  He is serving his second term in the Maine House and represents Readfield, Winthrop and part of Monmouth.


Mainers Feeding Mainers

June 1, 2014

Our own Heather Retberg (and good friend the Honorable Craig Hickman) was at Husson University this past Thursday on a panel about food security.   The BDN had an article about the panel.  Here is the opening paragraph and a link:

BANGOR, Maine — Food, what is grown in Maine and how to get it into the mouths of hungry people, was the topic of the day at a Thursday morning panel discussion convened by Bangor City Councilor Ben Sprague. The answer — support Maine’s farmers.”

And part of the article was a nice little video from Good Shepard Foodbank.  Watch it!


New Milk and Cheese Bill Hearing This Week!

March 2, 2014

“We always hear about the rights of democracy, but the major
responsibility of it is participation.”
–Wynton Marsalis

PUBLIC HEARING ON NEWLY PROPOSED MILK AND CHEESE BILL ON MARCH 4TH AT
1PM IN ROOM 214 of the CROSS BUILDING.

Public notice is short during this short session, but legislative and
public support for direct sales of fresh, unprocessed dairy keeps
growing. This time around, several Maine Cheese Guild members have been
working on bill language with Rep. Bill Noon (D-Sanford) on LD 1286 An
Act To Allow the Sale of Unregulated Farm-produced Dairy Products at
the Site of Production.

We have worked hard time and again to raise our voices over the last
five years to keep traditional ways of exchanging food legal. Each
time, awareness is raised, more understanding is reached and…we get
closer.

It is time for us to once again raise our voice, submit testimony,
attend the public hearing. PARTICIPATE! This bill aims to restore the
legitimacy to small-scale dairies that was stripped away by internal
language changes by the Quality Assurance and Regulations Division of
the Department of Agriculture in 2009. Please read the bill carefully.
Please consider it well. Please raise your voice and submit your
testimony to the Committee on Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry.
If you can, please attend the hearing in Augusta this Tuesday.”

Links below:

Committee Info.: Please submit testimony (one page or less is good) to
the clerk of the committee linked on the page:
http://www.maine.gov/legis/house/jt_com/acf.htm

Bill Text:
http://www.mainelegislature.org/legis/bills/getPDF.asp?paper=HP1278&item=1&snum=126