The final draft of the 2018 Farm Bill is being viewed as a victory for food sovereignty Maine. Credit: Heather Charles | MCT

The final version of the 2018 U.S. Farm Bill has passed the U.S. Senate and House. It contains some good news for food sovereignty in Maine after an amendment targeting local food control was removed from the 641-page document.

The Farm Bill passed in the Senate 87-13 on Tuesday and by a vote of 389-47 in the U.S. House of Representatives on Wednesday. Both of Maine’s senators, independent Angus King and Republican Susan Collins, along with Democrat Rep. Chellie Pingree and Republican Rep. Bruce Poliquin voted for the $867 billion bill.

Introduced by Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, HR. 4879, the amendment known as the Protect Interstate Commerce Act of 2018, would have forced states to authorize the sale of any agricultural product not prohibited under federal law.

That meant if any one state allowed the production or manufacturing of a particular agricultural product, under the King amendment the other 49 must do so as well, regardless if existing state or local laws prohibited it.

Food sovereignty advocates in Maine feared that federal language would supersede the state’s food sovereignty law, which allows towns to adopt ordinances giving them the authority to regulate the direct, producer-to-consumer exchanges, food processing and distribution free from state or federal regulatory control.

The fear was that under the King Amendment, Maine towns would be forced to follow the food production and exchange regulations from other states, regardless of existing local food rules in a Maine municipality.

“We are enormously happy that the toxic King Amendment did not make it into the final version of the Farm Bill that just passed in the Senate and seems sure to pass in the House,” Betsey Gerrold, acting executive director of Food for Maine’s Future, said. “This allows us to move forward with our work on local food sovereignty without fear of federal government interference.”

Pingree also applauded removal of the threat to Maine’s food sovereignty.

“I’m relieved that we were able to strip the worst partisan provisions from the legislation, such as nullifying local authority with the King Amendment,” Pingree said in a statement. “These are major victories for the American people.”

King and Collins in August joined 29 other senators in opposing the amendment.

“We are delighted that the Senate bill prevailed, and that the final conference report did not include this harmful provision,” Collins and King said in a joint statement Wednesday. “There are a number of state laws in Maine that would have been undermined if this amendment was adopted, including those on crate bans for livestock, consumer protections for blueberry inspections, and environmental safeguards for cranberry cultivation.”

The final version of the bill also contained some good news for Maine’s organic farmers with the inclusion of increased funding for the National Organic Research and Extension Initiative from $20 million annually in 2019-20 to $50 million over the next five years. The research initiative funds projects that enhance producers’ ability to grow and market high-quality organic agriculture products.

“Two of the brightest spots in agriculture right now are the growing markets for locally sourced and organic food,” Pingree, who authored the provision to fund the organic research initiative, said. “Maine is a great example of how these trends are driving economic growth in rural communities that need it and inspiring a new generation of farmers.”

Reviewed and renewed every five years, the farm bill includes funding and policy language on federal trade, commodity programs, rural development, conservation, agricultural research, food and nutrition programs, and marketing.

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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.