FAIRFIELD, Maine (Nov. 2, 2018) – The Fairfield town council unanimously passed a food sovereignty ordinance last month. The ordinance not only frees local farmers and consumers from onerous state regulations, but it will also create an environment hostile to federal regulations and where they could nullify some FDA edicts in effect.
The “Local Food and Community Self-Governance Ordinance” exempts food producers in the town from certain state laws relating to food processing.
“I think that people who are growing food and working with their neighbors really deserve the support to be doing that — to make food, particularly local food, an affordable and approachable commodity in our town,” Councilor Aaron Rowden said before the 5-0 vote.
A state law passed last year gives local governments the authority to enact ordinances regulating local food distribution without state interference. Effectively, the Maine Food Sovereignty Act decentralizes regulations for direct producer to consumer sales, and allows local communities to create their own networks of distribution and regulation. An article in the Bangor Daily News explained the purpose of the new law.
“Supporters of food sovereignty want local food producers to be exempt from state licensing and inspections governing the selling of food as long as the transactions are between the producers and the customers for home consumption or when the food is sold and consumed at community events such as church suppers.”
In effect, “food requirements in the case of direct producer-to-consumer sales such as a dairy farmer selling raw milk directly to a customer or someone selling baked goods from an unlicensed kitchen, in cities and towns with a local food sovereignty ordinance,” according to an overview on centralmaine.com.
Forty-five Maine communities have adopted their own ordinances, according to Local Food RULES.
IMPACT ON FEDERAL REGULATION
While state law does not bind the FDA, the passage of food sovereignty ordinances creates an environment hostile to federal food regulation in Maine. And because the state will not interfere with local ordinances, that means it will not enforce FDA mandates that conflict with local law. Should the feds want to enforce food laws in Fairfield, it will have to do so by itself.
As we’ve seen with marijuana and industrial hemp, a federal regulation becomes ineffective when states ignore it and pass laws encouraging the prohibited activity anyway. The federal government lacks the enforcement power necessary to maintain its ban, and people will willingly take on the small risk of federal sanctions if they know the state will not interfere. This increases when the state actively encourages “the market.”
Less restrictive food laws will likely have a similar impact on FDA regulation. It will make it that much more difficult for the feds to enforce their will within the state.
Constitutionally, food safety falls within the powers reserved to the states and the people. The feds have no authority to enforce food safety laws within the border of a state. Nevertheless, federal agencies still want more control over America’s food supply, and they go great lengths to get it.
For example, the FDA actively bans the interstate sale of raw milk. Not only do they ban the transportation of raw milk across state lines, but they also claim the authority to ban unpasteurized milk within the borders of a state.
“It is within HHS’s authority…to institute an intrastate ban [on unpasteurized milk] as well,” FDA officials wrote in response to a Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund lawsuit against the agency over the interstate ban. The FDA ultimately wants to maintain complete prohibition of raw milk across the United States.
However, federal ambitions go far beyond controlling your access to raw milk. In fact, the FDA wants to enforce universal, one-size-fits-all control over everything you eat and drink.
The local food sovereignty movement in Maine takes an important first step for food freedom. It decentralizes the system down to the local level and recognizes the fact the one-size-fits-all regulation enforced from the top down by Augusta or Washington D.C. is not necessary for, and it sets the stage to nullify in effect FDA schemes to control the food supply.
LAPAGE BACKS DOWN
Maine Gov. Paul LePage called for a special emergency session of the legislature to roll back the Maine Food Sovereignty Act he signed into law after the federal government threatened to take over meat and poultry inspection in the state. During the special session in October 2017, the legislature amended the law to ensure meat and poultry inspection remained under state control, even in localities with food sovereignty statutes.
The feds require state meat and poultry inspection programs to be “at least equal to” federal inspection programs. The USDA said it was “concerned the Food Sovereignty Act, if implemented as currently written, would contravene Federal food safety laws and regulations.”
LePage immediately caved. He responded to the letter by calling a special session to make the new Maine law federally compliant. He said in a letter to legislators that meat and poultry need to be excluded from the law so that the state can continue to enforce its inspection regime even at the local level.
Even with the changes, the Maine Food Sovereignty Act cedes a great deal of authority over food back to local governments. And when the state and local governments simply don’t enforce FDA rules and regulations, by and large, they don’t get enforced.