Last year’s “food sovereignty” movement has returned in 2012 with a decidedly mean edge.
New Hampshire is the second state where some lawmakers want to use their criminal code against state employees, producers and even federal officials in order to stop federal enforcement of food safety laws. Utah was the first.
Unlike Utah, the proposed New Hampshire “Food Freedom Act,” does not call for jail time for state employees and food producers. If they run afoul of the act, they could only be charged with class B misdemeanors and fined up to $1,200.
But the measure’s language says “any official, agent, or employee of the government of the United States, or employee of a corporation providing services to the government of the United States that enforces or attempts to enforce a federal act, order, statute, rule or regulation of the government of the United States upon a foodstuff labeled ‘Made in New Hampshire’ shall be guilty of a class A misdemeanor.”
If successfully prosecuted under such a measure, a federal employee or contractor could face 12 months in jail and fines up to $2,000.
In the year since President Obama signed the Food Safety Modernization Act into law, all sorts of food-sovereignty laws have been introduced and in some instances adopted by local governments. The movement gained traction at a few New England town meetings.
Seldom is it mentioned that the Tester Amendment already carved out a large exemption from the FSMA for small producers. It not only exempts farms with less than $500,000 in annual revenues, but also the sales of farm-harvested or produced food in the same state or even across state lines, so long as it is 275 miles or less.
New Hampshire’s House Bill 1650 is the latest proposal to be rolled out, and it has already been subject to a public hearing. The Food Freedom bill would label food grown and sold only in the state as “Made in New Hampshire.”
The way sponsoring Rep. Josh Davenport, R-Newmarket, sees it, once the “Made in New Hampshire” label is on a product that is sold only within the state, it would be exempt from federal regulations.
The New Hampshire Farm Bureau, however, came out in opposition to the bill, saying it goes too far and farmers were not even consulted by the lawmakers who wrote the measure.
“The real concern here is that we have all manner of onerous federal regulations coming down the pike that are making it illegal to do certain types of business in this state,” Rep. Andrew Manuse, R-Derry, said at the public hearing. He was an author and sponsor of SB 1650.
The “Made in New Hampshire” brand will demonstrate state sovereignty, according to Manuse.
New Hampshire Agricultural Commissioner Lorraine Merrill said intentions of the sponsors were good — to help local farmers — but she fears such a measure could end up weakening the state’s food products.
Also concerned is the “New Hampshire Made” organization, which has been working to build its brand for 15 years. That brand is for authentic local products that are of high quality.
Trish Ballantyne, who speaks for that brand, predicts passage of the bill would lead to widespread confusion. She said she understood people do not want food and consumables “regulated to death.”
Unlike Utah, New Hampshire did not subject SB 1650 to independent legal review. Utah’s legislative council predicted that if adopted, the bill to jail state employees who help the federal government with food safety would be in violation of the U.S. Constitution.
The New Hampshire bill sponsors do cite the 9th and 10th amendments to the U.S. Constitution to justify their actions. They also cite the “natural rights” section of the New Hampshire Constitution, which pre-dates the U.S. Constitution.
“The interpretation of food and trade as natural rights is consistent with the contemporaneous definition,” the bill says.
According to the text of the bill, the purpose of the New Hampshire Food Freedom Act “is to allow for locally produced food products to be sold and consumed within New Hampshire and to encourage the expansion and accessibility of farmers’ markets, roadside stands, farm and home based sales, and producer to end-consumer agricultural sales…”
If passed, the New Hampshire bill would become law on Jan. 1, 2013.