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Monday February 19, 2018

A wrap-up of 2016 political food issues

As shoppers across Nebraska sit down to the Thanksgiving meal, traditional and not-so-traditional, take a minute to reflect on the numerous ballot initiatives this fall aimed directly at changing the nature and make-up of that table. Highlights include:

Massachussetts' ban on animal cagesMassachusetts' Minimum Size Requirements for Farm Animal Containment, otherwise known as Question 3, passed by a substantial almost 4-to-1 margin. It prohibits farmers within the state from keeping breeding pigs, calves raised for veal and egg-laying hens in "confined spaces," defined by the law as any housing that "prevents the animal from lying down, standing up, fully extending its limbs, or turning around freely." The new law also prohibits businesses from selling pork, veal or eggs from animals raised under those condition, even if it comes from outside Massachusetts. 

GMO regulationRegulation of genetically modified organisms continues to land on local ballots, highlighted this fall by the Sonoma County, Calif., Transgenic Contamination Prevention Ordinance. Approved by 56 percent vs. 44 percent, the prohibition on genetically engineered organisms will ban propagation, cultivation, raising or growing genetically engineered organisms within the county. Sonoma County's initiative joins a long list of similar measures attempted in the last half decade, including California's defeated Prop 37 in 2012, which would have required mandatory labeling of genetically modified foods, despite the complexities of labeling those biotech foods that now account for an estimated 88 percent to 94 percent of major crops in the United States. 

No more soda for you, says San FranSan Francisco's Soda and Sugary Beverages Tax, or Prop V, passed by 62 percent to 38 percent. It levies a tax of a penny per ounce on sugar-sweetened drinks containing 25 or more calories per ounce. The law does not require funds must be spent on health initiatives, although it does establish a commission that will evaluate the impact on public health and advise the city government on ways to reduce soda consumption. Nearby Oakland and Albany passed a similar tax by a similar margin, as did Boulder, Colo., whose 2-cent per ounce tax passed by a narrower 55-percent margin.

Beer and wine sales by Oklahoma supermarketsOklahoma's Regulations Governing the Sale of Wine and Beer Amendment, also known as State Question 792, completely changes state laws governing alcohol sales and distribution, including allowing grocery stores and convenience stores to sell full-strength beer and wine seven days a week. Approved by a margin of 66 percent to 34 percent, it breaks the monopoly Oklahoma's licensed liquor stores held on beer and wine sales, proponents argued. A similar citizen initiative to legalize sale of alcoholic beverages in supermarkets and convenince stores didn't make the ballot.

A new meaning to 'pot roast'Marijuana legalization, medical and recreational, hit ballots across the nation, including:

  • Arizona's Prop 205, which failed to decriminalize possession and consumption by non-minors by a narrow 51 percent.
  • Arkansas' Medical Marijuana Amendment, which legalized weed for 17 qualifying conditions by a vote of 53 percent to 47 percent. A similar Maine medical legalization question passed by less than 3,000 votes out of more than 600,000, subjecting it to recount and possible challenge by the governor. Florida's less-restrictive medical marijuana amendment passed by a 71-to-29 percent margin, as did Montana's by 58 percent and North Dakota's by 64 percent.
  • California's, Nevada's and Massachusetts' recreational usage legalization all passed, by 56 percent, 54 percent and 54 percent of the vote, respectively.

Oklahoma Right to FarmOklahoma's State Question 777, or the "right to farm" amendment, was killed by a margin of 60 percent to 40 percent. The initiative was meant to require courts to rule on any law passed after 2014 that would regulate farming and agriculture by using the legal standard of "strict scrutiny"—that is, it must apply the same standards to laws regulating agriculture and livestock as in cases concerning basics rights like free speech, gun ownership and religious freedom. Only those ag regulations that could be proven to protect a “compelling state interest” would have survived scrutiny. Opponents claimed the amendment would have given corporate farms an advantage over small, local farms.

Should hunting be a rightRight to Hunt and Fish Amendments, which would make the outdoor sports constitutionally protected rights, passed in both Indiana and Kansas. Although not directly food-related, the amendments are necessary, according to advocates, to protect the public's ability to harvest and use animals as food, which is under attack by animal-rights advocacy groups like People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and the Humane Society of the United States, which similarly criticize farm-animal use.

Outlaw shellfish, are you kidding?The California Shellfish Suppression Initiative, which failed to collect the necessary 365,880 valid signatures to make the November ballot, would have made the sale or consumption of crab, lobster, crayfish, shrimp and prawns a felony punishable by a $666,000 fine per occurrence or a prison sentence of up to six years, six months, and six days, on the grounds that "shellfish are a monstrous evil that Almighty God, giver of freedom and liberty, commands us in Leviticus to suppress," according to the initiative's originator.

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