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Think You Know What's In Your Food? You Won't For Long...

November 11, 2013
tags:#EU, #European Food Safety Authority, #foreign trade, #genetically modified, #USA, #world trade
by:Jack Bicker
EU and US leaders are on the verge of signing an agreement that will hand decisions over what's in our food to multinational companies. From genetically modified vegetables, to lactic-acid bleached meat, 'Big-Food' positions itself to takeover our menus.

With almost none of the usual self-congratulatory fanfare, Brussels and Washington have entered into the final negotiation stages of the new Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership.

The agreement - first drafted in July 2013 - aims to create a free-trade zone spanning both the US and EU; two economies so large that the treaty eclipses anything China will achieve in the near future, and therefore sets the tone for global partnerships over the coming decades.

After eight years of lacklustre economic growth, the trade agreement has been described as an "unprecedented stimulus package" that is intended to reignite innovation, synergies and confidence across the world's two largest macro-economies by opening up new opportunities for business expansion and growth.

However, as George Monibot recently outlined in the Guardian, the predominant mechanism by which the new TTIP can become effective is by "removing the regulatory differences between the US and the EU" meaning that consumer protections customarily extended to EU citizens - on the labelling of genetically modified foods, for example - will either have to be watered down, or removed entirely.

US Senators Max Baucus and Orrin Hatch confirmed this as the case when writing that "...broad bipartisan Congressional support for expanding trade with the EU depends on lowering trade barriers for American agricultural products...", followed by a prescription stating that...

..."significant barriers to U.S.-EU trade" which the US Congress wants to remove include;

  • the EU’s restrictions on genetically engineered crops,
  • the EU's ban on the use of hormones in cattle,
  • restrictions on pathogen reduction treatments in poultry, pork and beef,
  • "unscientific" restrictions on the use of safe feed additives such as ractopamine in beef and pork.
  • and restrictions of imports of beef washed with lactic acid and with respect to swine

The passing of this landmark trade agreement therefore has the potential to overturn the rights of EU citizens to democratically determine their own, long-discerned culture of  food production and agriculture management. Millions of pounds have already been spent by large US food companies lobbying to block laws requiring the labelling of genetically modified food in shops across various US states, and many commentators fear that similar power will be exercised by 'Big-Food' to overturn the EU's otherwise stringent labelling practices and consumer information laws.

Furthermore, reports suggest that the new treaty will include an Investor-State Dispute Settlement provision, allowing multinational companies to sue national governments if they enact laws on behalf of citizens that might curtail future profits. Hypothetically, this means that if national governments or the EU ever wish to amend the treaty to demand that GM food is labelled or that meat should not be washed in bleach or lactic acid, the companies will have recourse to a legal challenge for considerable damages. An Investor-State Dispute Settlement was recently employed by international utility companies against the Argentinian government when - in response to petitions from voters and citizens - the government enacted laws to freeze energy and water bills in the face of steep rises in charges. The Argentinian government lost the case and was forced to pay over $1bn in damages.

The inclusion of a dispute settlement and its concomitant rebalancing of power away from the state and towards multinational companies, can only serve to disincentivise any such challenges, and therefore restrict the reflexive, democratic processes by which voters and their representatives can legislate to protect their own interests in an environment of faceless, corporate, arm's-length profit making.

Writing within the UK context, Monibot concluded by stating that "This is why there has been no attempt by the UK government to inform us about this monstrous assault on democracy, let alone consult us. This is why the Conservatives who huff and puff about sovereignty are silent. Wake up, people we're being shafted."

Article written by:
jack bicker
Jack Bicker