New Food Economy: The federal government has threatened to quash Maine’s historic food sovereignty law
by Jesse Hirsch | September 12th , 2017
Not so fast, Maine.
You might recall that, on July 5, the New England state passed historic legislation allowing municipalities to make their own regulatory decisions on locally produced food. Well, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) jumped in right quick—sending state officials a letter on July 6—to say the feds would take over meat and poultry inspections in thousands of state-regulated food production facilities if the new law is not amended to ensure compliance with federal law.
If you missed our initial reporting on this topic, some background: A food sovereignty law eases financial and regulatory burdens on the smallest producers, under the assumption that small-batch food sold face-to-face between neighbors should come under less scrutiny. But USDA has essentially told Maine that its “Act To Recognize Local Control Regarding Food Systems” will not actually be recognized. In other words, in its push to gain local control over food production, the state now risks stepped-up federal oversight that would actually reduce local control.
In response, Maine Governor Paul LePage has now scheduled a special emergency legislative session for November 1, the same day the food sovereignty bill (aka LD 725) would take effect. According to LePage, five state licensed facilities, 30 custom services, 51 small facilities for poultry processing, and 2,714 small retail processing facilities would suddenly fall under federal oversight if USDA has its way.