Europe's farmers should be forewarned. According to a new study, if the pending Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) become a reality, the United States' distinctly low food standards, coupled with the dominance of industrial agriculture, could trigger a complete "downfall" of the entire European farming sector.
Pointing to the significant differences between Europe and the United States' agriculture industries, the study examines how the pending trade pact would try to "harmonize" standards pertaining to such things as genetically modified (GMO) crops, growth hormones in meat, and pesticides.
The study, carried out by the German federal association of green economy, UnternehmensGrün, and previewed by Euractiv on Monday, warns that the "TTIP, in its proposed form, strengthens the position of the large agri-food companies," at the peril of Europe's small farmers.
U.S. farms, the study finds, are in a superior position due to their larger size as well as "the lower consumer and production standards under which they are obligated to operate."
"No one can produce products like cereal as cheaply as the USA," the report states.
The USA has a markedly different attitude towards GMOs, where they are considered to be safe and are therefore produced at a cheaper cost. Due to this price advantage, European farmers would be forced to at least feed their livestock with GMO products, the end products of which are not governed by the same labelling requirement.
Conventional, GMO-free farmers could be squeezed out of the market, warned the study. Furthermore, the German government has legislation in the pipeline that would indeed obligate producers to label products such as milk, meat and eggs if they were produced using GMO feed. TTIP would complicate the adoption of such a law.
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The EU's longstanding ban on growth hormones in meat, which has restricted the sale of most U.S. products in the bloc, will also face challenges under the trade deal. Euractiv notes that "the U.S. meat industry has long called upon Washington to eliminate this barrier within the TTIP negotiations."
As for the United States' liberal application of pesticides on its crops, during draft negotiations last year, the European Commission debated increasing pesticide levels to assure the agreement's passage.
Current U.S. exports of agricultural products and foodstuff to Europe hover around €8 billion. But, the analysis found that once trade barriers are removed, U.S. agribusiness will gain "near-unlimited access to the European market."
"European farmers are, economically speaking, outgunned," it continues. "It would mean the almost automatic downfall of parts of the agricultural sector."
Bolstering that argument, the U.S. Department of Agriculture released a recent study (pdf) that too found that if tariffs are removed under the TTIP EU farmers will overall export less than they currently do.
Last week, trade officials said they hoped to conclude TTIP negotiations in 2016, before the end of U.S. President Obama's term.