Daniella Tessier pets a rescued veal cow in one of the large pastures at Peace Ridge farm animal sanctuary in Brooks in 2016. Credit: Ashley L. Conti / BDN

Animal welfare groups may not have seen the results they wanted last Tuesday with Question 3, but they are trying to keep an open mind.

Groups that campaign for animal rights in Maine publicly opposed the passing of the right to food amendment to the state constitution, fearing that its vague language could open the door for justifying animal abuse. Now that the amendment has passed, advocates hope that all Mainers can find common ground regarding the humane treatment of animals.

“You worry about backyard butchering of animals and you worry about people disregarding the animal welfare rules about confinement of animals,” said Beth Gallie, president of the Maine Animal Coalition, referencing scenarios some fear might arise after the passage of the amendment.

“You also worry about homesteaders deciding to have lots of animals and then not bringing themself to butcher them when it’s time in the late fall, and then maybe not being able to actually keep the pigs they want to keep.”

When the bill passed with over 60 percent of the vote, these groups — which include Animal Rights Maine, the Maine Animal Coalition and Maine Friends of Animals — were disappointed, but not surprised.

“It was expected,” said Robert Fisk, Jr., founder and director of Maine Friends of Animals. “Our side just didn’t amass the necessary resources to conduct a campaign and deconstruct the amendment arguments.”

Fisk is a former Maine state legislator and is worried about the impact of the vague language.

Gallie likened the wording of the amendment to saying “puppies are cute.”

“Of course, but what does that mean?” Gallie said. “My question is what are they doing, what do they want. We need something to respond to.”

Gallie, who is a lawyer by training, said that she would have preferred that if there were to be changes in the law, it would be at the legislative level in communities. For example, food sovereignty might not look the same in Portland as it does in rural areas of Maine.

She also pointed out the complexities of claiming the “right to save and exchange seeds” when seed patents are controlled by federal law.

Now that the amendment is part of the constitution, though, what the amendment means in practice will be up to the Maine courts.

“This is virgin territory so we cannot predict what concerns will arise, but they will, and then the courts will unfortunately determine how this amendment is defined,” Fisk said. “What can you do, except eventually point out the error [in] their ways and address it on a case by case basis, and that is a long path to engage.”

Gallie doesn’t expect to see many challenges arising just yet, though. The upcoming session of the legislature is a short one, and she expects there will be more food sovereignty bills and subsequent court challenges in the regular session in 2023.

But she is cautiously optimistic. Gallie hopes that people who both supported and opposed the amendment can find common ground.

For example, if the amendment winds up promoting more small farmers that treat their animals humanely than large industrial agriculture, she sees that as a good thing.

“We’re disappointed but the voters have spoken and we have to hope for the best,” Gallie said. “We’d like to know what’s next. If you love your state, you hope for the best. We will go forward and work with people.”