Main Street Project


Food On the Ballot

vote-1278835_960_720Election day is next week! I’m sure you’re as thrilled as I am that this hideous campaign will be over soon. Polls have reported that about half of the country is seriously stressed out by this election. Among college-educated white women, it’s nearly 60%. (Hello!) Have you been vote-stress eating? Have you tried vote-stress eating about food votes? It’s transcendental. Really.

Don’t worry, of the 162 state ballot measures in the US this year, there are only five I could find that had anything to do with food, and that’s stretching the category a wee bit. The most popular food-related vote in recent years has been GMO labeling, and since the federal government effectively shut that down, here’s what’s left.

California: Prop 24 – Marijuana Legalization Initiative

This is a food bill only because of the explicit inclusion of hemp production, which can produce not only fabrics and numerous practical materials, but also oil, seed, and meal with impressive nutritional content, making it a great vegetarian alternative to endocrine-disrupting soy. Hemp is an environmentally superior crop to cotton. US cotton (which receives subsidies of over 1 billion dollars per year) needs 50% more water than hemp to produce the same amount of textile, and twice as much land to do it in. Hemp is not pesticide-dependent the way cotton now is, and its deep root system doesn’t strip the soil the way cotton does. The Declaration of Independence was drafted on hemp. Why is this Renaissance Man of a crop illegal to grow in the US? Because it looks like pot?

Exactly. Or that’s the current justification. You can imagine (or Google) why any number of industries might have been (and might still be) invested in the criminalization of hemp. But the tide is turning. The 2014 Farm Bill has allowed for R&D hemp cultivation only in the 32 states which permit that (including MN). Of those, California would be the 6th to make commercial hemp production legal. There’s still the conflict between state and federal law, as with the legalization of the psychoactive version of the cannabis plant, but this shift could be of enormous benefit to American farmers.

Indiana: Public Question 1 and Kansas: Constitutional Amendment 1: Right to Hunt and Fish

These will probably pass, as 18 states have added this to their constitutions recently.[i] Why? Because of the perceived attack on hunting and fishing from liberal animal rights groups. Why not? Here’s the Indiana Journal-Gazette:

Not only does placing hunting and fishing rights alongside such core protections as freedom of speech and religion trivialize the Constitution, it threatens to undermine legitimate laws and regulations. If the right to hunt and fish is needlessly elevated above other kinds of concerns, who knows what kind of bizarre legal challenges to environmental, safety or endangered-species regulations could clog the state’s courts?

Particularly in Indiana, where the amendment explicitly declares that “hunting and fishing are the preferred means of managing and controlling wildlife.” This should make one pause, as it presumes that the only thing we would ever want to do with wildlife is kill it.

Massachusetts: Question 3: Minimum Size Requirements for Farm Animal Containment

This is pretty straightforward:

The purpose of this Act is to prevent animal cruelty by phasing out extreme methods of farm animal confinement, which also threaten the health and safety of Massachusetts consumers, increase the risk of foodborne illness, and have negative fiscal impacts on the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

“Extreme methods” means “confined so as to prevent a covered animal from lying down, standing up, fully extending the animal’s limbs, or turning around freely.”

It also bans the sale of eggs, whole pork meat, and whole veal meat from out-of-state that does not satisfy those minimum requirements.

Opposition is unsurprising, either arguing that the changes will cost too much money, which will put an unnecessary burden on poor people, or that the invisible hand of capitalism will solve everything and this is unnecessary regulation. I’ll let you decide for yourself, and add only that animal abuse, like cheap food, unlivable wages, and CAFO pollution, does not happen in a vacuum.

The last measure, both alphabetically and in my heart, comes from the great state of Oklahoma: Constitutional amendment proposition SQ777: Right to Farm. This is one of ALEC’s babies. Seriously, just go to ALEC, search for Right to Farm, and you’ll find the template for the law. Plug ‘n Play!

Like the Right to Hunt, it is unnecessary. Unless you’re a person of color, the government has probably not tried to prevent you from farming. Oklahoma even has an established constitutional prohibition (#31) against the State participating in farming, so what’s the threat?

The Legislature shall pass no law which abridges the right […] to employ agricultural technology and livestock production and ranching practices without a compelling state interest.

Ah. The fog clears. With this language, regulating agricultural runoff or animal waste or the use of deadly pesticides could abridge one’s right to “employ agricultural technology” or raise livestock. With the Right to Farm enshrined in the constitution, unscrupulous farming explicitly becomes better protected than the environment being farmed. In Oklahoma, of all places; have they not read The Grapes of Wrath? Maybe the book clubs have picked it up, because recent polls show the population shifting towards a no vote on this. OK, Oklahoma!

That’s it. I hope I haven’t added too much election stress. It will all be over soon. Hopefully. Until next time.

[i] Minnesota among them, though to its credit, our constitution does not dictate methods of wildlife conservation and explicitly allows for regulation for “the public good.”

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