Submission for February 4, 2016 Work Session Hendrik D. Gideonse,
LD 783 calls for a constitutional amendment addressing the right of Maine citizens to food. My support remains the same, however, the evolving context has only underscored the need for adoption. Last year I analyzed the existing provisions of Maine’s Declaration of Rights in the light of the social, political, and economic context of the times when they were written. The original drafters were more concerned about the rights of protection against arbitrary authority than they were in fully articulating all the elements requisite to the pursuit of life and liberty. Everywhere they were surrounded by nature – farms, fish, timber, and so on. It just never occurred to them that access to food as part of the natural rights of humanity needed explicit expression in our constitution, not only to protect the nourished, but the farms as well.
Adding language articulating the right to food is a needed extension of natural rights provisions already in the Declaration. Two factors have changed. The dramatically changed circumstance for contemporary food production has removed it far from our daily consciousness. Its former neighborly connection has been essentially replaced by a substantially removed, complex, and not-fully-accountable-to-the- consumer corporate overlay. Additionally, many families and individuals have become increasingly knowledgeable about where their food is coming from and what kind of food the current system generates, and their commitment to access nutrient-dense food from farms that are ecologically sound has deepened. Increasingly numbers of us are seeking real food that isn’t chemically or GMO laden from farms where we can see, touch, and smell the gardens where it is grown.
Therefore, the rights of citizens respecting food now require specific attention. At the same time that nutritional and environmental consciousness about food and farming is growing, it is also true that too many families have little idea how their food is grown or produced or should be. They don’t know where it comes from, how it is processed, how it is protected (or not!), and why and, furthermore, what role our own senses and understandings and trust play in making our food choices. No longer coming from farmer neighbors, food comes under the aegis of huge corporations from thousands of miles away, regulated by agencies seeking to deny our right or authority to the fundamental choices governing what we take into our bodies for nourishment. And despite all these changes, Maine now finds itself in the unenviable position of being the New England state with the highest incidence of food insecurity.
We are now much more acutely aware of the extent to which the position of corporations relative to individuals and even government continues to alter. Critical arguments, for example, against the soon-to-be-voted-on proposed TPP trade agreement have to do with the inexorable drift toward corporate control of everything. Indeed, NAFTA and the TPP explicitly turn over to extra-governmental tribunals corporate claims over profits they believe denied them by governmental actions in defense of people and the environment.
The articulation of the basic right to food is an important protection. It provides grounding for the development of sound agricultural and public policy. It would provide a means of protection when either governmental or corporate action should interfere with the right to food in individual cases. Passing this bill will provide constitutional support for increasing our attention to food and farming. It will foster economic growth and development by a much-needed restoration of smaller scale local farming. That will be good for employment and as a hedge against both the causes and consequences of climate destabilization. Natural rights to life and liberty are already in the very first section of Maine’s Constitutional Declaration, but addressing directly the right to food embraces our individual choices through the most fundamental kind of law. It will safeguard us against the actions of misguided corporations and government agencies which seek to keep us ill-informed about what we’re eating when they’re not actually staking untenable jurisdictional claim over our own bodily health.