TAFTA (Part 2): Citizens of the Food Movement, Be Prepared!

06/04/2013 04:55 pm ET | Updated Aug 04, 2013

Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP): A race to the top, or the bottom?

In the U.S., some agencies may adopt a foreign country's regulatory standards and systems as being "equivalent" to those of the United States. Similarly, the U.S. can enter into "mutual recognition agreements" that allow nations to rely on the results of each other's testing, inspection, or certification regimes. Such actions reflect what is known as "harmonization" of standards. In other words, a country views another country's standards to be "substantially equivalent" to its domestic standards (even if the trading country's standards are lower).

Granting "equivalency" is often very subjective, imprecise, and based on incomplete or outdated information. For example, the quixotic decision of the U.S. to maintain Australia's equivalency status after it adopted a privatized meat inspection system has resulted in repeated incidents of Australian meat imports being contaminated with fecal material and digestive tract contents. Australia is not the only country exporting meat to the U.S. that exhibits problems. In 2012, the U.S. recalled 2.5 million pounds of Canadian beef products that were potentially contaminated with E.coli 0157:H7.

Another disturbing example -- China was declared "equivalent" for exporting poultry products to the U.S. but investigations show that this decision was based on outdated audit information and seemed to be motivated as part of a quid pro quo to allow U.S. beef exports to China. Similarly, we are concerned about the trend to harmonize tolerances of growth-promoting hormones used on animals such as ractopamine, or other chemicals such as chlorine-washed poultry.

Time does not permit a full review of how 'harmonization' in its many forms is whittling down food safety and public health precautions in the drive to increase trade. It is important that the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) demonstrate a new model of trade that sets minimum safety standards for all participating parties instead of following the old trade model of limiting or capping such standards.

Of great concern is the aggressive stance of the United States Trade Representative (USTR) and agribusiness toward eliminating non-tariff "barriers" such as import rules on and/or labeling of genetically modified (GM) crops or organisms (GMOs). As the USTR Ambassador, Ron Kirk has said: "Whether it's GMOs or other issues, we want to deal with many of these non-tariff barriers that frustrate our trade."

Compared to the United States, the European Food Safety Authority recognizes the precautionary principle and maintains stringent safety and scientific standards in regard to approving and labeling GM crops and products. The EU should be allowed to maintain vigilance to uphold its rights and those of individual countries to maintain high standards appropriate to their particular environment and cultures, including the ability to respond to mandates of its citizens.

This is particularly important given that GE crops perpetuate, and in some cases, increase the use of synthetic nitrogen fertilizers and toxic chemicals contributing a high percentage of greenhouse gases. It is critical that trade measures instead advance ecological farm and food systems that help avert and adapt to catastrophic climate chaos and better ensure food security.

Given that around 26 states in the U.S. have moved to enact more comprehensive labeling requirements for GMOs, any trade measures that could threaten the rights of U.S. citizens to democratically determine higher standards in food labeling, should be opposed.

Citizens of the food movement: Be prepared to rigorously defend high food safety and public health standards and ready to reject any trade measures that would lead to a race to the bottom when setting standards that do not fully defend citizens and the environment.