Healthy Local Food
“A Who’s Who of pesticides is therefore of concern to us all. If we are going to live so intimately with these chemicals, eating and drinking them, taking them into the very marrow of our bones - we had better know something about their nature and their power.”
—Rachel Carson, marine biologist and author, Silent Spring
Securing Maines Future Web

We all have a stake in making sure our food is safe and never wasted. Our children’s health and ability to learn are impacted by hunger and exposure to toxic chemicals like pesticides and BPA. We have a moral obligation to make sure no child goes hungry, no food is wasted, and no dangerous chemicals poison our food. We can do more to reduce waste, prevent hunger, and keep toxic chemicals out of our food. Maine is known for ingenuity and innovation. We can put those same skills to use in building a food system that eliminates dangerous chemicals and needless waste while bringing nutritious, local food from our family farms to every family’s table.

Why focus on food?

Farming and fishing are central to Maine’s economy and the Maine brand. Potatoes, apples, blueberries, lobster, mussels, milk, and maple syrup are iconic Maine produce that feed our families and are sold around the world. As the importance of local, healthy food has risen, so has interest in Maine farming and aquaculture. Maine is one of the few states where the number of farms and farmers, including young farmers, women farmers, and organic farmers are on the rise. Maine now has more than 8,000 farms that support more than 24,000 production and processing jobs. Maine’s aquaculture industry is contributing $137 million and over 1,000 full and part-time jobs to the economy.

Our children’s health and ability to learn depend on food safety and security. No child should be exposed to dangerous chemicals, especially in their food. The results of hunger and chemical exposure make it much harder for children to learn, and much more difficult for them to achieve their full potential.

Food waste is putting a significant and unnecessary burden on school and town budgets. More food reaches landfills and incinerators than any other single material in our everyday trash, making up more than 20% of all solid waste. This inefficient outcome is costing municipalities and businesses hundreds of thousands of dollars in disposal fees while taking up valuable space in community landfills.

Food waste is accelerating climate changing pollution and its disruption to our economy. As wasted food decomposes in landfills, it produces methane gas, which is 20 times more powerful than carbon pollution in warming our climate; causing extreme weather and expensive storms; threatening the health of our wildlife; bringing in new and unwanted pests; and undermining our farming, fishing, and outdoor economies.

Threats to healthy, local food

Our children’s health is threatened every day by toxic chemicals in our food. Pesticides and other toxic industrial chemicals like BPA, phthalates, and PFAS are widely used in the growing, processing, and packaging of food. These chemicals are linked to many serious health effects, including cancer, learning disabilities, and reproductive problems. Millions of pounds of pesticides are spread in the Maine environment every year and end up in our food directly, or carried by wind or water. BPA, phthalates, and PFAS chemicals are used in plastics and coatings, where they leach into food during processing, packaging, and preparation. For most people, our greatest exposure to these dangerous chemicals is from the food we eat.

Too many children and seniors don’t have enough to eat, yet Maine lacks the systems and incentives to reduce waste. Maine’s rate of hunger is the highest in New England and among the highest in the nation. Over 200,000 Mainers, including one out of five children, are not getting enough to eat. The problem is worse in Maine’s rural counties. Farmers, restaurants, grocery stores, and large facilities like schools and hospitals want to do more to reduce waste and hunger, but Maine lacks the necessary systems and infrastructure, including transportation, education, liability protections, and shared benchmarks.

Policy Priority:

Building a Stronger Food System

Too much food is being wasted, and too many dangerous chemicals are putting our children’s health at risk. Exposure to pesticides, BPA, and other toxic chemicals keeps Maine kids from reaching their full potential while wasted food puts a burden on local landfills, adds to disposal costs, harms our air quality, and leaves too many children without enough to eat.

We can build a food system that minimizes waste, hunger, and dangerous chemicals. Maine kids deserve every opportunity to learn, grow, and be productive. There are safer alternatives to the toxic chemicals used in food production and packaging. Building a food system that supports Maine farmers and fishermen while minimizing waste and the use of synthetic toxins will bring economic and health benefits to every Maine community while making wise use of our natural resources.

By 2022, Maine needs to…

  • invest in a food system that brings Maine food to Maine people while minimizing overall food waste, including incentives for food donations, municipal composting options, and limits to food waste in schools, health care facilities, and households.
  • eliminate the most dangerous chemicals used in food production and packaging.
  • minimize reliance on pesticides and help municipalities and homeowners transition to organic landcare standards.
  • commit to a new blueprint for a vibrant agriculture economy, sustained by modern infrastructure and ecologically sound farming practices, supported by markets for the Maine brand, and promoted at every point of sale—from farm stands to institutional buying contracts.
  • increase funding for agricultural research and technical support from the University of Maine and Cooperative Extension.

More opportunities for healthy, local food

Organic farming protects human health and the environment. Organic farming offers a healthy alternative to the use of synthetic pesticides and genetically-modified organisms. It eliminates exposure to dangerous chemicals on our food and in our water, giving our kids a better chance to learn and grow up healthy. It builds healthy soil, combats erosion, and reduces the carbon pollution that is disrupting our fishing and recreation industries.

Organic agriculture represents an especially bright spot in Maine’s economic future. Between 2008 and 2014, Maine added 138 organic farms - more than any other state in the country - and 30,000 acres of organic farmland. In 2014 these farms had annual gross sales of $54 million, up by 77 percent from 2008. Today there are well over 500 certified organic farms and processing facilities, representing about 93,000 acres of farmland.

Farmers’ markets are an important source of healthy, nutritious, locally-grown food. Maine has more than 100 farmers’ markets, including many winter markets, which make locally-grown food available year-round. Markets provide retail outlets for Maine’s hard-working farmers while giving consumers access to fresh fruits, vegetables, meats, jams, and other local produce, including many organically-grown and pesticide-free options.

State and federal policy frameworks to improve chemical safety are already in place – they just need to be used. A long-overdue update to the nation’s chemical safety system, combined with Maine’s forward-thinking Kid-Safe Products Act, has created more opportunities to assess chemicals for health impacts, collect and share information with consumers, and require the use of safer alternatives. No parent should have to guess if there are dangerous chemicals in their children’s food.