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Eye on Augusta: Food Sovereignty Movement Takes Root in Maine

For related articles and more information, please visit OCA's Food Safety Research Center page.

Last spring the Maine Legislature's Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry (ACF) Committee became the center of an emotional debate over the future of the state's food policy. On one side were farmers and local-food advocates who believe that the government, in league with big agribusiness, has hampered the growth of small farms with one-size-fits-all regulations. They came en masse to the hearing room, championing a slew of controversial bills, all challenging state and federal food-safety regulations.

"If we have to go underground with food, we don't care," said G.W. Martin, a sixth-generation Montville farmer, at a public hearing earlier this year concerning the selling of unlicensed raw milk. "We can either stay in Montville or move north, because I know darn well that the farther north I move, the less I have to worry about any darn government telling me I can't milk my cow."

On the other side were other food producers and farmers who say that these laws protect public health and ensure faith in the safety of local food.

"If Maine's reputation for making high-quality cheese were harmed, that would adversely affect an entire industry that has been growing steadily over the past 10 years," said Eric Rector of the Maine Cheese Guild, during a hearing on a similar bill.

According to recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 48 million people (1 in 6 Americans) get sick, 128,000 are hospitalized, and 3,000 die each year from food-borne diseases.

Maine - a Food Sovereignty Hotbed

The bills come at a time when Maine has become a hotbed in the country for "food sovereignty," a global movement of local communities taking control over their own food systems. Maine food sovereignty activists trace the most recent local flare-up of agrarian resistance back to 2009, when the Maine Department of Agriculture began implementing new facility requirements for small poultry producers processing fewer than 1,000 birds.     
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