An EU-U.S. trade deal currently being negotiated behind closed doors puts corporate profits and trade interests above fair and safe food for consumers, a trio of groups charged Wednesday.
Friends of the Earth Europe, Minnesota-based Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP), and UK-based Compassion in World Farming outline their concerns in a letter (pdf) sent to EU Trade Commissioner De Gucht because, they write, "the European Commission has failed fully to appreciate European and US civil society concerns."
The letter begins:
We are writing to respond to claims by the European Commission (EC) that there is “no contradiction” in the US - EU trade talks with the “enforcement of high safety standards” in food. We disagree. Fair, sustainable and safe food could permanently be damaged by the transatlantic trade deal on the table.
Sparking their warning was a draft (pdf) of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) chapter on Sanitary and Phytosanitary (SPS) issues, which covers food safety measures and animal welfare in the trade deal, leaked last month by IATP.
In his analysis of that leaked text, IATP's Dr. Steve Suppan wrote that though the chapter "doesn’t tell us everything about where negotiations are headed on food safety, [...] it tells us enough to raise serious concerns."
Among these concerns is that if the TTIP is implemented, the import re-inspection at port of entry would no longer happen because the U.S and EU food safety systems would be recognized as "equivalent," which, for example, could inadvertently allow genetically modified agricultural products into the EU food supply. From the letter:
First if, as we mention in our analysis, a standard is approved as ‘ equivalent ’, but the implementation is poor – due to budget cuts or other dysfunction – consumer protection and public health may be compromised. For example, if US testing of GMO contamination in agricultural exports is recognised as ‘equivalent’ to EU rules, but is not rigorously enforced, EU consumers could be faced with hidden GMO contamination of their food. Particularly so if verification is not possible, because port inspection s of ‘equivalent’ food products are cut. Poor implementation of rules in the US has led to unapproved varieties of US grown GM rice spreading to several countries, and to unauthorized GM wheat spreading last year from Oregon to Asia, forcing countries to enforce import bans against US wheat.
[...] In TTIP, the two sides are likely to negotiate standards – for instance on trade in foods which contain pesticides, chemicals used in production of meats and other foods, approval processes of new varieties of genetically modified seeds – and then expect the rest of the world to adopt these standards even if they have not been part of the talks themselves. These issues will be negotiated in specific annexes about which neither the Commission, nor the US government has shared any information. Nor are they expected to be made public during any stage of the talks.
The groups stress that the emphasis on "least trade restrictive" measures stated in the draft "will continue to put agribusinesses in the driving seat." They continue:
This is highly problematic, because the EU’s Precautionary Principle has clearly been under attack in the WTO and under TTIP by agribusiness. The US insists on certainty that something is unsafe (an approach favoured in WTO SPS language), as opposed to Europe’s use of the Precautionary Principle (which focuses on preventing risk in the first place even in the absence of full scientific certainty ). US rules on food safety rely heavily on industry studies with severe conflicts of interest.
The letter concludes by urging more transparency in what have so far been secretive trade negotiations that appear to be working for corporations rather than public interest.
"European concerns that the free trade agreement with the USA would undermine public safeguards were scoffed at by the Commissioner in charge of the negotiations. Now leaked documents show that the public has every right to be concerned," said Adrian Bebb, food, agriculture and biodiversity campaigner for Friends of the Earth Europe, in a statement issued Thursday. "Behind closed doors, negotiators appear to be dismantling Europe's food safety net in order to allow big business to make more profits."