TTIP leaks expose massive threat to food and farming

1 June 2016 - 11:45am
Press release

Vicki Hird, Campaigns and Policy Director at War on Want .

Non-rotting mushrooms and cheaper hormone-free beef – what’s not to like about TTIP?

Well everything actually. The mushrooms are genetically altered but we won’t know why and the beef may be cheaper but it is still industrially reared and will undercut UK farmers.

These are two insights drawn from a recent detailed look at the TTIP leaks which came out in April by The Institute of Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP). The leaks gave us the first peek into US thinking on proposals for the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), the EU-US trade deal that has been kept entirely secret until now. They also show how far the negotiators will go to stich up global trade deals to the disadvantage of developing countries. 

But back to the mushrooms. The genes of the mushrooms have been modified by a US company to stop them going brown: the company says it is safe. The US government considers it safe too. This practice is not regulated and there is no risk assessment to be carried out.  It has been clear since the talks started that a big issue in TTIP would be how differently we judge risk in food and chemical safety.  

Food safety rules in the US fall far short of European standards.  The standard of evidence of risk is low and much of that evidence is kept under wraps as commercially ‘confidential’.

By contrast, the EU applies the precautionary principle which means a new product or chemical or process usually needs to be proven safe if there is suspected risk of causing harm to the public, or to the environment. The burden of proof that it is not harmful falls on those promoting it. A lack of evidence or scientific data does not mean a lack of harm. The GM mushrooms would currently be regulated but after TTIP, who knows?

In addition the leaks suggest the EU would have to constantly prove safety rules are necessary. This puts corporations in control of the food safety assessment system.

Safety aside, the leaks confirm what we’ve already suspected about TTIP’s negative impact on many farmers.  For instance, IATP describe how the leaks show a real risk to schemes designed to support local businesses. The US maintains strong protection for local procurement for services like school transport, farm to school programmes. The EU wants a chunk of these potentially lucrative markets and whilst the US seems disinclined to give way, it’s unclear from the leaks what would happen. There is a real risk such support for local businesses will be traded away in the final negotiations.

Farmer groups and others have already expressed concern about TTIP impact on farm incomes. Under the deal most food trade tariffs, as with other tariffs, between the EU and US would be reduced, meaning vulnerable farm sectors would have to compete with low cost producers. US farmers use hormones to boost beef yields – a practice banned in Europe. Enterprising US farmers who have also ditched the practice want a slice of the EU market and will apparently get an extra tariff reduction. More pressure on UK beef farmers.

All tariffs are on the table and up for discussion. As IATP note “the EU and U.S. negotiators are busy horse trading the lives of small dairy and meat producers and processors over the amount of car parts and other goods each side is willing to liberalize.

In reality, standards for food production TTIP threatens - such as on animal welfare, GM, cloning and chemical for chickens - don’t come under tariff removal but remain hugely contentious. As such they will have a key part in the final reckoning.

The leaks describe all sorts of new ways in which industry could get control over our health and safety systems. The ‘Regulatory Cooperation’ text indicates that regulators may be required to do cost benefits analyses of any proposed new rules. This could give corporations all sorts of handy data to use in an investment dispute and loads work onto regulators.

Safety regulations would be forbidden “until and unless alternatives to achieve the appropriate level of protection” have been explored – once again putting the burden on the regulator rather than the companies. As IATP put it, we would have a “an exhaustive process of ‘timely submitted public comments’ by industry to slow down or even stop new regulations, including regulations to protect public and environmental health.

The final threat the leaks reveal is to developing countries which must be able to protect their food supply to ensure citizens can eat and farmers against global trade shocks and being flooded with cheap imports. Disturbingly, the leak unveiled a new ‘agriculture chapter’ in TTIP which could see the EU and US ganging up to dictate trade on their terms: this powerful alliance working to keep what special farm protection they want while stopping developing countries from protecting their own sensitive agricultural markets from cheap and subsidised imports. 

TTIP it is not a pretty sight for citizens, consumers, farmers or developing countries. We must oppose TTIP and similar deals which will devastate our food and farming and hand even greater power to corporations to dictate policy.

 

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