Public Affairs Networking
Food and trade: an almighty mash up

Last week EU and US trade negotiators settled into an anonymous Brussels hotel suite, writes Magda Stoczkiewicz to thrash out a proposed free trade deal between the world’s two biggest economies. The deal they’re making – the transatlantic trade and investment partnership, or TTIP – is shaping, among other things, the future of our farming and the sustainability of what we eat.

Read through the fine print of the EU’s proposal on food safety in TTIP, and it’s clear that bureaucrats seek to facilitate transatlantic trade in food “to the greatest extent possible”. This is understandably setting off alarms bells that trade interests will triumph over food safety and precaution. Moreover, the EU wants to hand over to trade officials and the US government the right to vet future European food safety laws as they’re being proposed. Not content with merely cutting import taxes or tariffs on foods between the EU and US, trade negotiators are going for the jugular – attempting to increase trade by ‘harmonising’ regulations and standards on both sides of the Atlantic.

When it comes to our food, both big business and the US government say EU rules governing safety, environmental standards and consumer choice are prime examples of ‘barriers’ to trade that need to be broken down. The outcome of any deal-making can only result in weakening EU rules for safe food, and what citizens know about how our food is produced, as EU and US approaches are so very different. In the US, genetically modified foods can be approved without proper testing and marketed without any labelling. Not so in Europe, much to the chagrin of biotech companies like Monsanto.

Although there are increasing attempts at state level in the US to introduce labelling schemes for genetically modified food, TTIP would make this progress impossible – so citizens and farmers on both sides of the Atlantic would lose out. Equally, Europe has a sophisticated system to minimise environmental and health risks at every step of the meat production chain. The American system lacks any country-wide rules for treating farm animals before slaughtering starts – nothing that comprehensively governs the use of veterinary drugs, feed additives or animal welfare.

Reduce any of those perceived ‘trade barriers’ and the flood gates will open for more foods on the shop shelves coming from industrial-scale farms. Industrially produced foods will be traded back and forth in a new food price war, pushing small-scale and more sustainable producers to the brink. An official European Parliament study predicts that looser food rules would result in more chickens, likely farmed in factories, shipped each way across the Atlantic. Only the big food and agricultural commodity players stand to gain.

But this is not only a problem for citizens, small farms and food businesses; it is also a problem for the planet, where intensive farming is pushing our environment to its limit. With scientists reminding us of agriculture’s leading role in extinction of species, deforestation, climate change, and nitrogen and phosphorous pollution, there is a serious and urgent need to reform the food and farming system. A growing swell of opinion suggests this can be achieved by putting people, their environment and local food producers at the core. The public know this.

Nine out of ten European citizens want governments to do more to support local food – associating this with a cleaner environment, a balanced diet and better jobs. Meanwhile tens of thousands of people protested on the streets of Berlin last month objecting to TTIP and further industrialisation of the food chain, and well over a million people have signed a petition in record time calling for TTIP negotiators to stop their bargaining.

The very integrity of Europe’s food is at stake. TTIP would trade away our safeguards, the protection of our nature and our ability to develop vibrant local sustainable food economies. We must ensure our food is taken off the TTIP negotiators’ table.

Magda Stoczkiewicz is the director of Friends of the Earth Europe. 

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