AUGUSTA, Maine — A food sovereignty law in Maine moved one step closer to reality after the state House and Senate approved a bill giving towns and communities the authority to enact ordinances regulating local food and water distribution free from state control.

On Wednesday the House passed LD 725, An Act to recognize local control regarding food and water systems, with a supermajority 109-35 following a brief floor debate.

That same day, the bill passed through the Maine Senate without a roll-call vote taken.

Speaking in favor of LD 725 during the floor debate, Rep. Don Marean, R-Hollis, said face-to-face transactions and local control is what the bill is is about.

“What can be better than that?” he said Friday morning. “It’s not necessarily good for everyone in Maine, but it is certainly good for people living in rural areas who know their neighbors, who go to their farms and can see and assess for themselves if the produce or meat is safe to eat.”

Marean, who said he has supported food sovereignty legislation in the past, said there are times the state tries to “over regulate” things.

“We are not talking about food sold in the supermarket that is already inspected, stamped and approved,” he said. “This is a neighbor-to-neighbor thing.”

While LD 725 and local control still has some hurdles to overcome — including getting the governor’s signature — advocates of food sovereignty are encouraged.

“In 2013 my version of this bill received 49 votes in the House and failed the Senate by one vote,” said Rep. Craig Hickman, D-Winthrop in an email on Thursday. “What a difference four years makes — clearly the food sovereignty movement on the ground, town-by-town has percolated its way up to the Legislature.”

To date, 18 Maine towns in seven counties have declared food sovereignty with local ordinances giving residents the right to produce, sell, purchase and consume local foods of their own choosing in Sedgwick, Blue Hill, Penobscot, Trenton, Hope, Appleton, Isle Au Haut, Plymouth, Livermore, Freedom, Moscow, Solon, Bingham, Brooklin, Liberty, Madison and Alexander.

In March the Rockland City Council stopped short of adopting a food sovereignty ordinance, opting instead to pass a compromise resolution supporting its local food producers.

Sponsored by Sen. Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, LD 725 would authorize municipal governments to adopt ordinances regulating their own food systems and the transporting of water for commercial purposes. It further requires the state to recognize those ordinances.

Jackson was not immediately available for comment on Thursday, but told the BDN in March that, while he is not an expert on local food production, he decided to introduce the bill in the face of the state’s growing food sovereignty movement.

Advocates of food sovereignty want local food producers to be exempt from state licensing and inspections governing the selling of food as long as the transactions are between the producers and the customers for home consumption or when the food is sold and consumed at community events such as church suppers.

“The [food sovereignty movement] demanded that the state recognize that municipalities have the authority to protect the individual right of its residents to access the food of their own choosing from the sources of their own choosing within that municipality,” Hickman said, adding Wednesday’s House vote was a vote for home rule, local control and self determination.

“Food is life,” he said. “If you can feed yourself, then no one else can push you around or tell you what to do.”

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Julia Bayly

Julia Bayly is a reporter at the Bangor Daily News with a regular bi-weekly column. Julia has been a freelance travel writer/photographer since 2000.