During a hearing this week in Augusta, critics lambasted a proposed amendment that would add a “right to food” provision to the state constitution.

The Maine Veterinary Medical Association said the “overly broad” measure would open the door “to all manner of animal abuse and neglect in the name of food.”

It is so vague, the association said, that if it is adopted “one is left to wonder” about questions like, “Does this mean I can keep a cow in my Portland apartment? Can I slaughter pigs in my front yard?”

Opponents of the proposal said it is unnecessary and may wind up restricting the state’s ability to protect food safety, animal rights and other important societal needs.

But proponents said the effort would merely enshrine a natural right into the state’s most fundamental law.

“While most bills are simple text written in statute in order to convey a message, this resolution, to establish a right to food, is pure poetry,” state Rep. Justin Fecteau, an Augusta Republican, said.

He called it “a manifesto of our original right” that serves as a public health statement, “an affirmation of our relationship with Mother Earth and it speaks to the spirit of Maine.”

Rep. Billy Bob Faulkingham Maine Legislature

The proposed amendment, which would need the backing of the Legislature and a statewide vote, says, “All individuals have a natural, inherent and unalienable right to save and exchange seeds and the right to grow, raise, harvest, produce and consume the food of their own choosing for their own nourishment, sustenance, bodily health and well-being, as long as an individual does not commit trespassing, theft, poaching or other abuses of private property rights, public lands or natural resources in the harvesting, production or acquisition of food.”

State Rep. Billy Bob Faulkingham, a Winter Harbor Republican who sponsored the resolution, said the change is needed “to protect our food rights for future generations.”

In his testimony Wednesday to the Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Committee, Faulkingham worried that without the amendment, it’s possible that in 25 or 50 years, Mainers could “see our government creating roadblocks and restrictions to the people’s right to food.”

“Will the government be telling people what they are allowed to eat and where they can grow it?” he asked. “Will Monsanto own all the seeds, and will we have gotten so far from our roots that we won’t even have natural seeds anymore? Will people even be allowed to grow gardens?”

“Will totalitarian code enforcement officers be pulling up people’s carrots and onions, because of town or state ordinances that forbid them?” Faulkingham asked.

The Maine Municipal Association, which also testified, did not mention uprooting vegetables.

It cited its concern that the proposed wording could impose restrictions that would make it harder for municipal officials to fulfill the “unmet needs of their residents who fall through the cracks of a complex system of federal and state food poverty programs.”

“Not only do municipal officials believe that the right to food is inherent, they understand how challenging it can be for even the savviest residents to navigate the complex system of food assistance programs,” the association testified.

A co-sponsor of the proposal, state Rep. Jennifer Poirier, R-Skowhegan, said everyone in Maine “should have the right to grow, raise, harvest, produce and consume the foods that they choose.”

Nobody in the state, she said, “should be told that they cannot grow their own food.”

Katie Hansberry, the Maine state director of The Humane Society of the United States, told legislators her organization is not opposed to the right to food, but is concerned that as written it could have “unintended consequences leading to potentially devastating effects on animals.”

She said that its wording would provide a defense for people charged with neglect or cruelty by insisting they have a constitutional right to raise and harvest animals for food. It’s possible that right could even extend to eating cats, dogs or wildlife not normally considered as food animals, Hansberry said.

Adopting the amendment might even “prohibit the Maine Legislature from passing farm animal reforms, particularly as they relate to the sale of cruel animal products, such as foie gras, horse meat, and meat and eggs from animals raised in extreme confinement,” Hansberry said.

The veterinary association raised similar objections.

“This amendment seems to be offering protections for animal husbandry practices that may or may not conform to accepted practices,” it said.

It wondered if Mainers could claim they had a right to raise hens in a basement or use unsafe methods to slaughter animals.

The group said its members “work tirelessly to ensure Mainers have access to safe food, and that the animals involved in that process are well cared for, properly treated and healthy themselves. A constitutional amendment worded in this vague manner only impedes those goals.”

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