Declaring sovereignty (over food)

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It may be a little early to call food sovereignty an actual movement, but should it become one, Maine will have led the way. In 2011, the tiny town of Sedgwick, Maine, (population around 1,000) passed a food sovereignty ordinance —the first in the United States. Other Maine towns have followed suit; in May of this year, the Isle of Haut became the 10th town in the state to do so.

The goal of these statutes is essentially a shift of power: away from state and federal food regulations, toward local or community-level regulations. Part of the impetus is to help free small producers from regulations that would affect them disproportionately. Sedgwick’s rule, called “The Ordinance to Protect the Health and Integrity of the Local Food System,” declares the right of the town’s producers and processors to sell their foods without the oversight of state or federal regulation or licensing. Buyers and sellers can enter into their own agreements over raw milk, fresh eggs or locally slaughtered meats. The ordinance finds some of its justification in the U.S. Constitution, which says that the government derives its power from the consent of the governed.
The ordinance drafters concluded that the governed might also choose to take back that power, so that consumers could purchase local products without impediment.

In Maine, the food-sovereignty movement has risen to the state level as well. State lawmakers have introduced several bills whose goal was to exempt local food producers from state regulations. One proposed bill that would have made local food sovereignty the law of the entire state did not pass, but some others have.

Proponents of food sovereignty say that when operating at this level — local and personal — if a producer sells bad food, people will quickly know it and know where it came from, making it a sort of self-governing system. Opponents, some farmers among them, point out that knowing your local farmer doesn’t necessarily make his or her food safe. Local and safe are two separate issues.

Recently, the ordinances met the court system. Dan Brown, a Maine dairy farmer from the town of Blue Hill, had sold raw milk from his one cow. Rawmilk sales are legal in Maine but not without a license and label from the state. Brown hoped the town’s local food ordinance would exempt him from the state licensing and labeling regulation: Blue Hill’s ordinance says, in part, that local food produced by a farmer and sold to a consumer for consumption at home does not need to be licensed or inspected.

It was regarded as a test case for Maine’s local food-sovereignty ordinances, and they did not prevail. The court decided against Brown and wrote that nothing “in the Blue Hill ordinance clearly states that the town intended to include milk within the definition of local food.” He was fined $1,000.

Elsewhere, food sovereignty does not seem to have gained traction at the same rate it has in Maine. In 2012, food-sovereignty ordinances failed to pass in both Utah and New Hampshire, where it was called “inexpedient to legislate.”

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NW Kansas  |  August, 21, 2013 at 09:10 AM

And some say "consumers don't care".. I'm betting that they do and those in denial still won't accept the truth in the matter! My family milked cows and believe this, WE actually drank it and no one died. We were no mega dairy with illegal immigrant workers who have not been tested for TB when working with human consumption items (this needs to be in all food services). Next is the majority support for rebuilding USA with manufacturing and being proud to be Americans once again. Some have sold out to imports and tearing down our country from within (congress on bad trade). I've met to many good people in all aspects to think that all are braindead like those opposed to supporting USA products/manufacturing and greater local control!

August, 21, 2013 at 09:58 AM

The (overly) proud citizens of Maine are welcome to afflict each other with food poisoning if that is their preference. Just so long as the USDA prevents that nasty Maine glop from leaving the state and possibly poisoning my family. I bet there's a booming market in Kaopectate and Pepto Bismol up there. Soon enough they will be howling about all the trees being cut to produce all the extra toilet paper that will be needed. I fail to see how trading in potentially tainted food secures any sort of sovereignty. What does it make you King of, unless maybe King of Diarrhea. Oh well, you go Mainers! You go girls!

kansas  |  August, 31, 2013 at 02:15 PM

Seems Mike & Casey are at the far end of opposing views here. Unfortunately, both are more wrong than right in different ways. Mike seems to think safety isn't an issue while Casey seems to think the only answer is big, federal government domination & control. Local control is/must be Control, Control works Best when it IS Local and Responsible to locals. There are always faults, but who really likes the idea of a Federal Government Agency, with its one-size-fits-all mandate, dictating every detail of our local school systems, local restaraunts, local police, etc., etc. Does Casey really think that's the only way to verify food safety? After all, Maine isn't some 3rd world communist dictatorship - like China - pitching hazardous waste into their milk to cheapen it up. Alternately, for producers' own protection as well as consumers', there does have to be some control/regulation/checks. Seek a settlement that fits, and works, and is responsible - that doesn't have to be a Big Nanny State tyranny of D.C. bureaucrats.

SD  |  September, 04, 2013 at 04:12 PM

So.....each state will necessarily fund their own 'food police', most likely with many different sets of rules, some condlicting with neighboring states, and who will settle all the fights???

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