This trade agreement is a Trojan Horse that will threaten our food safety and environment. Trade officials whose primary objective is to increase trade and boost corporate profits will have first say over future food safety rules.
The EU's recently published Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) proposals for the chapter on food safety and animal welfare - under negotiation this week - is a regulatory train crash in which governments will abrogate their powers to remote international bodies and committees of trade experts.
The proposed text, an analysis by Friends of the Earth Europe (FOEE) reveals, will undermine existing health and safety regulations in both the EU and the US with potentially disastrous results for food safety and animal welfare on both sides of the Atlantic.
With the release of the document, says FOEE, "it is now clear that the over-riding objective is the maximization of trade." The regulatory powers of national governments are to be shifted from the EU and national and state governments to a new 'trade committee', removing their ability to set higher standards.
There is the also the new prospect of novel foods including GMOs, cloned animals, and nano materials being introduced after minimal health and safety checks - while provisions for animal welfare are non-binding.
Food standards in both the EU and the US will have to be those established through the World Trade Organisation (WTO) - and its industry-dominated Codex Alimentarius Commission - preventing the adoption of more demanding standards anywhere within the trading bloc.
"This trade agreement is a Trojan Horse that will threaten our food safety and environment", says Adrian Bebb, Food and agriculture campaigner with FOEE - echoing the 'Trojan horse' theme at today's boisterous demo at the European Commission in Brussels, organised by FOEE and Global Justice Now
"Trade officials whose primary objective is to increase trade and boost corporate profits will have first say over future food safety rules. A trade agreement is not the place to decide about our food safety."
Based on the available text, warns FOEE, "we fear that TTIP is likely to restrict efforts to build healthier, fairer and more sustainable food systems on both sides of the Atlantic."
Or as Renée Vellvé of GRAIN puts it: "There is nothing in here that will advance the interests of consumers, small farmers or public health."
Maximizing trade at all costs
The clearly stated purpose of the TTIP agreement is to facilitate trade "to the greatest extent possible". Article 2.1 of the proposed chapter on food safety, plant and animal health and welfare, recognises governments' rights to "protect human, animal or plant life and health" in their territories.
But it appears that regulatory authorities will in fact be unable to realize this right, given the emphasis on increasing trade between the EU and the US, and because each and every regulation must be justified as "least trade restrictive".
Under Article 13, even countries' rights to inspect food and agricultural imports at the port of entry - a key measure which has been used to safeguard public health - will be limited to "exceptional cases", e.g. to check for "regulated pests".
And under Article 8, in nearly all cases those checks will be carried out by the exporting country. Any attempt by the importing country to re-inspect imports would be banned as "redundant".
And while Article 3 of the text requires countries to "avail themselves of the resources necessary to implement the chapter" , there is no requirement to ensure the more extensive resources needed to protect human, animal or plant life and health. As FOEE observes, "Trade appears to have more of a priority than safety."
As for rules on food safety, plant and animal health and welfare, these can be challenged by investors and governments who think they are too exacting - but not by members of the public concerned their failure to adequately protect human, animal or plant life and health.
Karen Hansen-Kuhn, Director of Internal Strategies at the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, fear that the proposals will effectively put a stop to efforts taking place in many countries to create safe and sustainable food production and supply networks.
"People in many states are rebuilding their food systems from the ground up", she says. "The proposals in the SPS chapter could create new obstacles to cut that process short."
Shifting power from governments to trade experts
Under Article 18 of the text, the EU proposes that responsibility for initial decisions on food health and safety will be transferred away from national governments and agencies to a wholly unaccountable joint EU-US management committee, made up of trade and regulatory experts and, potentially, industry representatives.
The proposal appears to match the demands put forward by the US biotech lobby organisation, BIO, to US trade representatives in May 2013. And of course, trade experts tend to see safety rules as technical trade barriers rather than as reflecting the needs and demands of society.
Under this system, for example, any review of safety procedures for GMO crops in the EU would be considered by the trade committee first, before undergoing an impact assessment, and comprehensive consultations with national governments in the European Union.
"Trade experts are likely to see measures to introduce or extend moratoria on products as barriers to trade", points out FOEE. "This would put at risk existing protection measures, such as the moratorium on several growth hormones, scheduled for review."
Local standards will be over-ruled
There are concerns that the Commission's proposal will undermine measures introduced at the local, US state, or EU member state level intended to raise standards - measures which have historically led to standards being increased across the board.
Under Article 6, any new rules set at the EU or federal level in the US, would apply throughout the territory, apart from zones with known plant or animal diseases. So EU countries and US states would be unable to pass more stringent regulations to make up for deficiences in EU / US regulations as they now can. In many cases, progress on higher standards starts at the local level and builds upwards.
"This threatens to undermine even existing rules designed to raise standards", says FOEE, "such as measures to ban small cages for battery hens in California or to reduce antibiotic use in the farming sectors in France and Denmark."
This could also make it more difficult to restrict imports should conditions or enforcement standards change in the future.
Novel foods - a free for all
The EU's proposals will affect regulations on 'novel' foods or food ingredients, such as foods derived from cloning, genetic modification or synthetic biology.
The purpose of the draft proposal, in Article 7.1, is to ensure that regulations should be applied so as to minimize negative effects on trade "while ensuring the fulfilment of the importing Party's requirements".
As such, any new products being brought to market ("new trade"), which are not covered by existing rules, could escape regulation as any new regulation could be seen as a 'barrier to trade'.
"This would undermine all existing efforts at regulating new technologies like nanotechnology, synthetic biology, animal cloning and genetically engineered animals", says Jaydee Hanson, Senior Policy Analyst for Emerging Technologies at the Center for Food Safety. "These technologies need careful and precautionary reviews before they are used in our food, not a free trade pass to avoid review."
As Hanson points out, nanomaterials, which are increasingly being used for food-related products, or foods derived from new techniques for genetic modification in plants or animals, could be traded in the absence of regulation specific to those technologies.
Also novel foods imported into the EU from the US would face minimal safety checks, as the US lacks regulations for novel food, warns FOEE: "The US does not regulate the new kinds of genetic engineering of plants, animals and microbes being introduced through synthetic biology, unless plant pests are involved."
And any new regulations imposed at any level could be interpreted by investors as a 'barrier to trade', providing an opportunity for legal action under the proposed Investment Settlement Dispute Mechanism.
The threat is a very real one - the American Chemistry Council has already urged the US Trade Representative's Office to indicate that it would challenge at the WTO and EU requirement to label nanomaterials as a 'barrier to trade'.
And we are already feeling the effects as regulators hasten to be 'TTIP-ready'. The EU is currently watering down regulations for novel foods, allowing offspring from cloned animals (including live animals, embryos or semen) to be imported.
A clear example of TTIP's chilling effect on future legislation is evident in the Commission's refusal to extend the proposed ban on cloned animals to descendants of clones because it would hinder the negotiation process. Moreover cloned animals, while restricted in the EU, are not tracked in the US, so it is possible that they could enter the food supply.
This is of particular concern as the long-term consequences of cloning are as yet unknown; it is however known that animals bred to maximise production can have serious health problems.
Animal welfare - a race to the bottom
There are also concerns that the wording in the EU's proposals - which recognise in Article 17.1 that animals are sentient beings, thus are able to suffer and feel pain and fear - is so weak that it may will animal welfare standards at risk.
Moreover it is immediately followed by Article 17.2, which proposes an alignment of regulatory standards between the two regions - which is next to impossible given the differences in existing legislation.
"While the US has no federal animal welfare legislation except rules on the slaughter of livestock", argues FOEE, "the EU has a series of regulations and directives covering different species at all stages of the farming process."
In particular the wording on "collaboration to further develop good animal welfare practices" is non-binding - and there is nothing in the text to suggest that products from animals raised under significantly lower welfare standards (e.g. eggs from battery hens) could be barred from import.
This means that competition from farmers operating to lower standards in the US could force European farmers to demand lower welfare standards in the E, since there are no requirements that either party comply with animal welfare laws of the partner with the highest levels of protection as a condition for trade.
There is nothing in the draft to suggest that the EU might be able to positively influence and advance animal welfare standards - as has been claimed.
Olga Kikou, European Affairs Manager at Compassion in World Farming, is clear as to the likely outcome: "References to an alignment of regulatory standards in the proposed SPS chapter have reinforced claims that TTIP will be detrimental for animal welfare and will lead to further intensification in the sector."
The proposal does includes plans for a 'working group' on animal welfare - but the provisions mentioned in the text are unenforceable. It is more likely that increasing pressure from agribusiness will result in further intensification of animal farming.
Enforcing flawed, industry-dominated WTO international standards
The EU draft re-emphasises that the TTIP agreement comply with the World Trade Organisation agreement on food safety, and agricultural plant and animal health (WTO SPS), which recognizes as authoritative standards set by the international Codex Alimentarius Commission.
Under TTIP's Article 7.7, new rules agreed by Codex must be adopted in EU and US regulation within 12 months, unless either the US or EU registers 'reservations' to the specific threshold decided at the Codex meeting.
So in effect, TTIP would force both the EU and the US to accept the Codex standard, unless a 'reservation' had been formally registered. Also, it's not clear that 'reservations' already raised about existing Codex rulings, due to concerns about the evidence used to set the standards, will continue to apply.
And once the EU or US has adopted a Codex standard, it must maintain that standard, even if new scientific evidence shows the Codex standard inadequate to protect human health. "Codex is slow to request international risk assessments based on new science, and it cannot develop a new standard without such risk assessments", explains FOEE.
In addition, "The EU proposal appears to accept that once a Codex standard for a food has been fixed, the EU and US would lose their right to opt for stricter thresholds, even if new evidence of risks becomes available." Indeed, under Article 7.7, the EU and the US could be bound by internationally agreed standards "even where clear evidence suggests a threat to public health."
As FoEE concludes, "This trade agreement is a Trojan Horse that will threaten our food safety and environment. Trade officials whose primary objective is to increase trade and boost corporate profits will have first say over future food safety rules. A trade agreement is not the place to decide about our food safety."
FOEE report: 'How TTIP undermines food safety and animal welfare'.
EU proposals for the chapter on food safety and animal welfare.