Organic Consumers Association

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Raw Deal: Maine Residents' Fight for Unregulated Food Draws Crackdown

For related articles and more information, please visit OCA's Healthy Raw Milk: It's Our Right page and our Maine News page.

New England town meetings typically include dozens and dozens of proposals for citizens to vote up or down, on quickly forgotten matters like new stop lights and bridge repairs.

But this year, things have been different. The residents in eight small Maine towns have all voted to declare "food sovereignty" - and they won't be forgetting the issue any time soon. In other words, they've passed ordinances that explicitly allow local farmers and ranchers to sell their food - meat, eggs, unpasteurized milk, honey, veggies - directly to consumers within town borders, without state or federal licenses, permits, or regulations.

Towns in Massachusetts, Vermont, and California have all replicated these experiments, which in Vermont have all been based on a single template [PDF]. And while the mainstream media is referring to the ordinances as "symbolic," it is yet to be seen how the courts will rule.

These votes are the result of work by activists in the food sovereignty moment, who see the ordinances as a response to an ever more intensely regulated food system. On the federal level, the recent Food Safety Modernization Act could require small food producers to complete a sophisticated hazard analysis critical control point (HACCP) plan, which would be both costly and tedious. Meanwhile there has also been an increase in local health department enforcement around the country, in places like school bake sales and kids' lemonade stands.

Activists see food sovereignty ordinances as a compromise of sorts over the thorny issue of private food distribution. And although many food safety measures and regulations were developed alongside industrial food production - and have a place in protecting consumers - many activists now believe they've been used to target small businesses. Food sovereignty activists feel that people have a right to acquire food - such as raw dairy products - privately through membership-based food clubs, outside the parameters of long-standing regulations that require retail, dairy, and other permits.
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