Looking at the many respected and disparate Maine organizations arrayed in opposition to Question 3, it is clear that the proposed constitutional amendment creates more problems than it solves. While enshrining a “Right to Food” in the state’s constitution sounds appealing, the amendment’s impact on food safety and animal welfare is not at all appetizing.

The core of the issue is the proposed amendment’s vague wording and overly broad language. Proponents argue that Question 3 would not impact commercial food safety or animal welfare statutes, but that is not accurate. Constitutional rights are interpreted by the courts, so the true impact of Question 3 will not be known until lawsuits make their way through the legal system. The lawsuits required to determine the effect of the amendment will directly burden Maine taxpayers and take years to resolve. By then, the damage to public health and to Maine animals will already be done.

By amending Maine’s constitution, proponents of Question 3 would place the right to “grow, raise, harvest, produce and consume the food of [one’s] own choosing” above state law and local ordinances, including food safety regulations. This would eliminate the safeguards that we have in place to help us produce healthy, affordable food for Maine families. Could the amendment lead to pigs being raised in tiny urban yards and being slaughtered on the front stoop without regard for food safety standards?  It absolutely could. After years of legal wrangling, the courts might decide against such an interpretation, but that outcome is uncertain and would be too late for the neighbors impacted by the urban pig farm, the people sickened by unsafe meat, and the animals forced to live in an inappropriate environment.

Maine prides itself on its local small business farm to table industry, with “buy local” an all but formal mantra. But this initiative could jeopardize its reputation for some of the best food and restaurants in the country.

Maine has strong animal welfare laws on the books, and for those laws to do the work of protecting animals they must be enforced. A constitutional amendment enshrined above state law could easily dissuade already overworked and underfunded municipal animal control officers from enforcing the existing welfare statutes. After all, anyone could argue that they were raising their animals in a particular way to “produce and consume the food of their own choosing.”  The vague language of the proposed amendment opens the gate to torturing animals through extreme confinement or force-feeding and could lead to companion animals like cats and dogs being slaughtered for meat. Even horses could be on the table.

The wide range of questions raised by the proposed amendment makes us question whether it is an idea ahead of its time. It would be a “first in the nation” provision with many yet unknown consequences. While the intention behind Question 3 seems positive, the real danger it presents to our health and our animals is not. A constitutional amendment won’t help Maine families facing food insecurity, but it will tie up tax dollars in unnecessary lawsuits for years to come. Food sovereignty is a good idea that deserves to be fully discussed and digested before passing a vague statement of rights that won’t satisfy anyone. Let’s enact laws that favor Mainers’ rights without putting our health or the welfare of our animals at risk.

The Maine Farm Bureau and the Maine State Society for the Protection of Animals invite you to join them in voting ‘no’ on Question 3 on Nov. 2.

— Special to the Press Herald

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