Food Sovereignty Laws Carry Risks

Community Supported Agriculture and farmers markets are good examples of local people wanting local foods. But farmers have to follow state and federal rules, even for small operations.

The Food Sovereignty Movement wants more than that with local foods, it champions more freedom in food choices for consumers who don't mind passing up food safety regulations.

Last month, Maine became the second state to pass laws that follows that movement, the bipartisan bill affirms the rights of cities and towns to regulate local food production. Meaning farmers and food producers can sell products that haven't been inspected or licensed by state or federal regulators. As an example, a neighbor could buy a gallon of unprocessed milk from a dairy farm.

But there's a lot of risk involved in buying uninspected milk, meat, or eggs. It's easy to get sick from food that hasn't been pasteurized.

Dr. Ruth MacDonald Chair of the Food Science and Human Nutrition at Iowa State University has noticed a trend of people wanting to know where their food is coming from by buying locally. She says that's good but people should also know the risks.

"A lot of the laws that we have put into place since we've moved into the direction of having more laws around the food supply are for specific reasons. They are because milk used to be a major source of child illnesses, diarrhea, cholera, tuberculosis was spread through milk." MacDonald says, "We don't have that anymore, no one knows people that got sick because they drank contaminated milk."

Children and elderly people especially are susceptible to food borne illnesses and with new laws, like Maine's, it's unclear who is liable if someone does get sick.

Groups like the Maine Cheese Guild opposed the food sovereignty bill, claiming a breakout of illness because of a lack of inspection could taint the entire industry.