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Maine voters enshrine 'right to food' in state constitution

Peppers are harvested from the Mountain View Correctional Facility's garden in Charleston, Maine, in Aug. 2021.
Kevin Bennett
For Maine Public
Peppers are harvested from the Mountain View Correctional Facility's garden in Charleston, Maine, in Aug. 2021.

With 61% of the vote, as of early Wednesday morning, Mainers have passed Question 3, making Maine the first state in the nation to adopt a "right to food" amendment in its constitution.

Early in the evening, supporters of Question 3 — who were linked up with about a dozen Zoom parties across the state — seemed to be bracing themselves for disappointment. But as the results rolled in Tuesday night, and with the Bangor Daily News calling the measure before 10 p.m., the mood shifted to jubilation.

"I am so shaky, I feel exhilarated and still in disbelief," said Heather Retberg, a leader in the campaign.

Retberg says she hopes the adoption of the amendment will change the way cities and towns write laws and consider people's right to food.

"What we have said all along is that it would hopefully change the question of municipal officials from, 'How do I enforce?' to, 'How do I ensure? How do I protect? How do I respect? How do I make sure that everybody in my community — how do we make sure that people have access to feed themselves in dignity so that they aren't making choices between putting food on the table and medicine and shelter and food,'" she says.

Critics, such as Janelle Tirrell of the Maine Veterinary Medical Association, believes the way forward is less clear. Her main concern is the erosion of animal welfare laws in Maine.

Tirrell says she has seen the consequences of poor farming practices, and all she can do is continue to speak out on behalf of animals.

"We were concerned about the legislation, we spoke out about the legislation, and we lost. Now, we just have to wait to see how this plays out in the lives of animal owners and animals across Maine," she says.

Rebecca Graham, who represents the Maine Municipal Association, which also opposed Question 3, says the amendment is going to need to be revised. For example, terms and concepts are going to have to be spelled out.

"Also define the terms of the amendment. For instance, 'The right to food.' The right to food is included in the opening of that, however, it's not defined. So none of the actual delivery legal mechanisms to protect the right to food are enshrined in this amendment," she says.

Jop Blom, a physical therapist and farmer who supported Question 3, told the Yes on 3 Zoom group that he felt both the outcome of Question 1, on the CMP corridor, and Question 3 are a clear sign that Mainers are demanding more direct, democratic control over issues, and he criticized the state's major newspapers that endorsed a "no" vote on both questions, calling them "out of touch with the people."

"This is all about people taking a stand against corporate overrun from Hydro Quebec and CMP. It's against corporate influence on our food supply. And I think this is a wake up call to all these editorial boards to come down and talk to the people, and based on that, make their endorsements," he says.

The passage of Question 3 makes Maine the first state to adopt a constitutional right to food amendment, but other states, such as West Virginia, are considering similar measures.