(CN) — For Maine state Representative Billy Bob Faulkingham, amending the state Constitution to recognize a constitutional right to food is just common sense.
“In the last decade I think everybody, no matter where you are in the country, has probably seen an expansion of the farmers' markets and such because people want to get that food closer to home, healthier food, get away from the big corporate producers,” said Faulkingham, a fifth-generation lobsterman who has captained a lobster boat since he was 15.
Thanks to a resolution he helped introduce into the legislature, Maine voters will decide on Election Day whether to become the first state to codify a right to food in their state Constitution.
The proposed amendment says individuals have a right to consume food of their own choosing, which includes saving seeds and the ability to grow, raise and harvest that food as long as private property rights and natural resources are not abused in the process.
The spending to launch campaigns surrounding this ballot question has been miniscule, comparable to a brisk town-wide election. Newspaper op-eds have been published and some radio spots have aired across the state. It is unlike the millions spent on another question posed to Maine voters this year over whether to ban construction of electrical transmission lines across a portion of the state.
But unlike the transmission line question, proponents and skeptics of Maine’s right to food initiative believe the issue may crop up in other states. Indeed, Washington and West Virginia have begun to consider it.
Furthermore, the question has shaken the stereotypical political alliances. Faulkingham, a Republican, has pushed for the bill with Senator Craig Hickman, a Democrat who runs an organic farm. The coalition opposing the adoption of the amendment include animal rights groups and agricultural associations.
Detractors say the amendment’s language is too vague and could lead to unintended consequences for how animals are raised and how food safety is enforced in the state.
According to Faulkingham, the proposed right to food amendment grew out of a grassroots food sovereignty movement.
Around the time Faulkingham began paying attention to the movement, years before he entered the legislature in 2018, the state had cracked down on a Maine farmer who it said was not licensed to sell raw milk.
“It definitely struck me the wrong way… what it seemed like the government was doing to him,” Faulkingham said.
In 2014, the Maine Supreme Court ruled against Dan Brown, a farmer who had sold raw milk without a distributor's license and argued a town ordinance exempted him from the state requirements regarding the labeling of his milk when he sold it from a farmers’ market and a stand.
The Maine Supreme Court took up the matter and ruled against Brown, saying the municipal exemption only applied to inspection and licensing requirements at the local level.
In 2017, the legislature passed the Maine Food Sovereignty Act that allowed towns to pass ordinances that prevented state food laws from applying to producer-to-consumer purchases of food.
The question now before Maine voters, Faulkingham said, will codify an individual right, similar to that of the Maine’s right to bear arms: the Constitution’s language says it’s a right that cannot be questioned but it also comes with restrictions.
Little will change if the amendment passes, Faulkingham said, but it would help promote self-sufficiency in the land with deep farming, hunting and fishing traditions.
For now, the right to food is a preventative one, designed to be a bulwark against government infringement, the lawmaker said, though he does not see a lot of infringement currently.