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USDA ready to take over meat, poultry inspections in Maine

The Maine Legislature will meet in special session on Nov. 1 to fix the state’s recently adopted food sovereignty law. The U.S. Department of Agriculture is prepared to take over all meat and poultry inspections in the state if the lawmakers fail to enact and amendment.

Maine Gov. Paul LePage called the emergency special session in an Aug. 29 letter to legislative leaders. LePage told state lawmakers they must change LD 725, “An Act To Recognize Local Control  Regarding Food Systems.” LePage signed the bill on June 16. It takes effect on Sept. 14.

“If the law is not changed, five state licensed facilities, 30 custom services, 51 small facilities for poultry processing, and 2,714 small retail processing facilities will switch from state oversight to federal inspection,” LePage wrote.

As adopted, the state was supposed to recognize local food regulation production and processing. However, USDA, in a July 6 letter, told LePage the federal agency was taking over meat and poultry inspections in the state unless the state amends the law.

Only state meat and poultry inspection programs that are “at least equal to” the federal inspection program operated by USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) are permitted. USDA says Maine’s program has experienced 14 years of growth and economic benefits of a half billion dollars a year.

LePage’s signature on the original law made Maine the leader in the so-called food sovereignty movement that claims freedom of food choice trumps food safety. The special session will likely reverse so-called food freedom act because it puts commerce at risk.

Since 2015, the Wyoming Food Freedom Act has come closest to Maine’s law. The Cowboy State law, amended since it was adopted, is not identical to Maine’s. It permits production of food in home kitchens without inspections or licenses.

Supportive lawmakers in both Maine and Wyoming see “food freedom” as a state economic development tool. “Food freedom” activists frequently show up at town meetings in New England.

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