Maine “Right to Food” Constitutional Amendment On the Ballot

by Michelle C. Pardo

Maine voters will go to the polls today to vote up or down on whether to support a  “right to food.”   Today’s ballot will ask voters to decide if they want to amend the state constitution to include a right to:

“declare that all individuals have a natural, inherent and unalienable right to grow, raise, harvest, produce and consume the food of their choosing for their own nourishment, sustenance, bodily health and well-being”

Maine would be the first state to codify a right to food.  Supporters of the amendment have said that approval of the amendment will “enshrine in the most fundamental form of law their right to make their own choices when feeding themselves and their families” and also will “promote locally produced food products and improve consumer health and safety.”The constitutional amendment would provide a right to food of an individual’s own choice as long as an individual does not commit trespassing, theft, poaching, or other abuses of private property rights, public lands, or natural resources in the harvesting, production, or acquisition of food.  

But animal activists, including the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), have opposed the amendment.   HSUS claims that the amendment would prevent adequate animal welfare.  An HSUS document, titled “Vote ‘No” on Question 3, the Misleading ‘Right to Food’ Amendment,” claims that dogs, cats and horses could be “at risk” if Maine residents are allowed to eat food of their own choosing because this could result in “consumption of dog, cat or horse meat” and that this legislation would do nothing to limit food insecurity.  Others have claimed that the animal activist groups’ opposition is due to their significant interest in “synthetic” food — including lab grown or fake meat, and views the “right to food” as a threat to limiting synthetic foods’ market share.

But such a constitutional right could protect Maine residents from legislation designed to take away their right to eat what they want — a threat that isn’t just hypothetical.  Earlier this year, the Berkeley, California, city council made the decision to pivot to a completely plant-based food purchasing program, which would affect meals provided to summer camps, senior centers, public events and jails, among others.  In doing so, the Berkley city council cited its goal to be a “global leader in addressing climate change, advancing environmental justice, and protecting the environment.”  Previous activist movements tried to ban meat products from being sold in Berkeley.

And, recent activist-backed legislation in California and Massachusetts will likely make certain animal proteins (e.g. bacon, eggs) prohibitively more expensive to these states’ residents — further impacting those who suffer from food insecurity.  See, e.g., https://www.businessinsider.com/bacon-restaurants-may-disappear-california-animal-welfare-law-reports-2021-8.  Given these real concerns, Maine’s “right to food” may well be the first step in fending off efforts to dictate what Mainers eat for dinner.

*Update* The votes are in — Maine voters approved the referendum adding “right to food” to the Maine Constitution. — the nation’s first.