Last week I wrote about Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership and some of the risks and threats that it poses to our democracy, social rights, and consumer sovereignty. Today I am taking a closer look at the potential implications of the proposed deal for our food and environment – areas for which TTIP might be a real game-changer.
Food activists all over the world are desperate to defeat the agreement, and their issues of concern are far from trivial. American agriculture and food companies have been long fighting against stringent food safety laws currently enforced in the EU, with the regulation on traceability and labelling of GM products being one of the main targets. Currently, the EU’s GMO legislation mandates the labelling of all products containing biotechnically derived ingredients, and although certain GM crop varieties are approved in the EU, European food retailers proved responsive to the rising consumer concerns and refused to import and put GM products on their supermarket shelves (Webb, 2014, p. 9). While bio-engeneered produce is basically non-present on the European food market, the vast majority of Americans consume them on a daily basis – virtually unknowingly, since the battle for mandatory GM labelling in the US has so far been lost. Among the products that are prohibited in Europe, but regularly appear on a dinner plate of an average American are hormone-treated meat and chlorine washed chicken. These bans, which US claims as unscientific and restrictive, may also be lifted under TTIP.
Environmentalists have other reasons to ring alarm bells – regulatory convergence stipulated under the Transatlantic deal can push down environmental protection policies of the EU. One of the most disturbing possibilities is the expansion of fracking, which proposed liberalization of trade in oil and gas can unleash. Moreover, the list of toxic substances, chemicals, and pesticides currently banned in Europe can be significantly shortened under American pressure to ditch the pre-cautionary principle, which for a long time has been EU’s preferred approach to public health protection (according to the principle, a substance must be proven safe before it may be used). America, however, follows the reverse logic – any substance is considered safe until proven otherwise – which clearly favours economic considerations over the protection of public health. Differences in approaches have direct practical consequences – presently, there are 1200 substances prohibited from being used in cosmetics in the EU, while in America the relevant number is 12 (Williams, 2014).
Amidst increasingly loud voices of protest against TTIP, the UK government issued a collection of documents on the proposed agreement in an attempt to reassure the public over its potential risks. This leaflet explicitly states that the deal will place no obligation on the EU to lower current agriculture and food regulations, and that high environmental standards are absolutely “non-negotiable”.
Yet, America’s position on these issues is unequivocal. Having lost its fight for having the aforementioned bans lifted through the WTO, American agro-food business hopes to make its way into the European market through TTIP. Thus, American food lobbies such as the American Soybean Association, the North American Export Grain Association, and the National Grain and Feed Association have called for the elimination of “discriminating” European policies for GM products (Harvey, 2014). These hopes are well backed up by the government – in his message to Congress, Barack Obama explicitly stated that the lifting of food bans ‘not based on science’ is one of the major aims to be achieved under TTIP (Webb, 2014, p. 9).
While GM regulations are one of consumer activists’ biggest concerns, the list of food safety issues raised by TTIP does not end there (see this article for more details). The covert nature of negotiations on the deal adds to the challenge of predicting its exact consequences for the food and farming systems. What is increasingly clear though is that the regulatory coherence sought by the parties is most likely to be achieved through deregulation of the industry and weakening of the current rules. Convergence around the lowest standards will inevitably require a serious compromise on the level of protection and information that European food consumers presently have, and the EU authorities’ attempts to reassure the public do not seem to take away much worry. Let’s see if the European Commission’s latest commitment to enhance the transparency of TTIP (European Commission, 2014) helps to change the public mood.
Department for Business, Innovation & Skills, UK Trade & Investment and Foreign & Commonwealth Office (2014, 27 October). Collection: Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). Retrieved from https://www.gov.uk/government/collections/transatlantic-trade-and-investment-partnership-ttip#public-concerns
European Commission, (2014). Opening the windows: Commission commits to enhanced transparency in TTIP. [online] Available at: http://trade.ec.europa.eu/doclib/press/index.cfm?id=1205 [Accessed 26 Nov. 2014].
Harvey, F. (2014, September 5). EU under pressure to allow GM food imports from US and Canada. The Guardian. Retrieved from http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2014/sep/05/eu-gm-food-imports-us-canada
Sharma, S. (2014, May 16). 10 reasons TTIP is bad for good food and farming. The Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy. Retrieved from http://www.iatp.org/documents/10-reasons-ttip-is-bad-for-good-food-and-farming
Webb, D. (2014). The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), House of Commons Library Standard Note SN/EP/6688, 18 November 2014. Retrieved from http://www.parliament.uk/briefing-papers/SN06688.pdf
Williams, L. (2014, October 7). What is TTIP? And six reasons why the answer should scare you. The Independent. Retrieved from http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/comment/what-is-ttip-and-six-reasons-why-the-answer-should-scare-you-9779688.html