Food Fight in Maine

A June 18th article in The New York Times, “Maine Court Fight Pits Farmers Against State and One Another,” reveals some of the challenges of regulating local food production and sales. In brief, Jess Bidgood looks at Dan Brown’s efforts to sell unpasteurized milk at his farm stand in Maine. After a few years of selling the milk, along with some other items, state regulators told Brown he must stop because he didn’t have a distributor’s license and he wasn’t using proper labeling. Bidgood writes that “The case has pitted the state against some small-scale farmers and stirred a feud between new homesteaders and longtime family farmers.”

The case also provides a good example of the push-and-pull between the different levels of regulation in food safety. Local officials in the area have passed a food sovereignty ordinance, “which grants an exemption from food safety rules to farmers selling directly to consumers.” But Brown and other farmers must also deal with state and federal regulations, which preempt local ordinances.

In addition, Bidgood notes that not all farmers who are part of the local food movement are supportive of Brown’s efforts to operate without a license or labeling. Longtime Maine farmers are concerned that new arrivals to the area and local food market will give the community a bad name. Through this example, we can see that labeling interest groups (“local Maine farmers” or “organic farmers in Maine”) and assuming agreement among the group’s members may overlook important divisions within the group.