A number of Maine towns have passed food sovereignty ordinances that didn’t accomplish much until the passage of a recent bill entitled “An Act to Recognize Local Control Regarding Food Systems.” The bill, which passed with unanimous Senate approval, was signed into Law by Governor LePage on June 16, 2017. In early November, the law will take effect and will allow producer-to-consumer transactions for locally-grown food, without being subject to government oversight or inspections (if a municipality chooses to allow that).
In August of 2017, the City of Auburn adopted an ordinance that allows local farmers to take advantage of the new law. Around the time of the adoption of the local ordinance, the State of Maine was notified that the US Department of Agriculture objected to the law as it applies to slaughter facilities. The USDA has indicated that they would take over slaughter facility inspections or close facilities within Maine if the Law is not amended to continue to require inspection at slaughter facilities. It appears that farmers, the Governor and the State Department of Agriculture want to make sure that does not happen, because it would negatively impact Maine producers. The State Legislature will consider an emergency amendment to the law so that the exemption will not apply to slaughter facilities.
Auburn’s Ordinance enables producers within Auburn to do whatever State Law allows. As the State Law is currently written, that would include the processing of meat and poultry - starting on November 1 - if it is produced, processed and sold directly to the consumer within Auburn. As noted above, that may change to only allow processing of products other than meat and poultry for local sale directly to the consumer. None of the inspection exceptions allowed by the ordinance apply to wholesale sales or to sales that occur outside of Auburn.
Producers of agricultural products should monitor the progress of the legislature to see what the potentially modified State Law will allow. We are hopeful that new flexibilities for local farmers to build relations with local consumers will begin on November 1, but the extent will be determined by State Law. We will monitor progress and provide updates.