AUGUSTA – The Maine Senate voted Wednesday to kill a proposed constitutional amendment seeking a “right to food freedom and food self-sufficiency,” one day after House lawmakers supported sending the issue to voters.

The proposed amendment states that all individuals “have a natural, inherent and unalienable right to acquire, produce, process, prepare, preserve and consume the food of their own choosing.” The proposal is an outgrowth of Maine’s vibrant “local foods” movement but also reflects the tensions between small-scale farmers, food activists and the government agencies that license and inspect farm products.

On Tuesday, the House voted 97-45 to send the proposed constitutional amendment to Maine voters. But on Wednesday, the Maine Senate voted to the reject the measure on an 18-13 vote after limited discussion. Neither vote in the chambers was along party lines, although Democrats were more likely than Republicans to support the constitutional amendment.

Proposed constitutional amendments must receive support from two-thirds of lawmakers in both chambers of the Legislature in order to set up a statewide vote. That means the issue appears bound to die between the chambers absent a major shift in the Republican-controlled Senate.

The proposal, L.D. 783, was supported by advocates of so-called “food sovereignty” as well as by organizations such as the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association. Supporters contend that government over-regulation hurting small-scale farmers and erecting unnecessary barriers between consumers and their local farmers.

But the proposal drew opposition from the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry, the Maine Farm Bureau and from others who warned the proposed amendment was, at best, unnecessary and, at worst, potentially harmful to the food safety and inspection programs.

The full text of the proposed “Right to food freedom and food self-sufficiency” amendment reads:

“All individuals have a natural, inherent and unalienable right to acquire, produce, process, prepare, preserve and consume the food of their own choosing, for their own nourishment and sustenance, by hunting, gathering, foraging, farming, fishing, gardening and saving and exchanging seeds, as long as no individual commits trespassing, theft, poaching or other abuses of private property rights, public lands or natural resources in the acquisition of food. Furthermore, all individuals have a right to barter, trade and purchase food from the sources of their own choosing for their own bodily health and well-being. Every individual is fully responsible for the exercise of these rights, which may not be infringed.”

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