Large businesses lobbying intensely to undermine safety regime in new trade deal, campaigners warn …
Britain and other European Union member states are under increasing pressure from North American business groups to open their borders to imports of genetically modified food as part of negotiations for a new Transatlantic trade deal, environmental campaigners have warned.
The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) is being negotiated among European governments, the US and Canada, with the active participation of dozens of large businesses. It has already attracted strong criticism from democracy campaigners, who say it could mean the UK could have to open the National Health Service further to private companies, and complaints against large companies could be treated in secret without proper legal recourse.
The potential impacts on food safety are less apparent as the negotiations are being conducted without public consultation. Progress on signing the partnership is expected to be hastened later this year when new EU commissioners are appointed.
The European commission has strongly denied that the partnership would allow North American companies to circumvent EU food standards, particularly with regard to genetic modification. A spokesman for the commission told the Guardian: “TTIP will not change the way we regulate GMOs [genetically modified organisms] in Europe. EU trade commissioner Karel De Gucht stressed that publically many times. The EU has its red lines in the negotiations and the GMOs is one of them.”
However, documents from various US and Canadian government agencies and business trade bodies suggest strong pressure is being brought to bear from US industries to allow GM products and other foods into EU markets that would violate the EU’s current standards, in the name of free trade. The US Department of Agriculture and Foreign Agricultural Service has explicitly identified “the EU’s non-tariff barriers to US agricultural products”, specifying in particular “long delays in reviews of biotech products [that] create barriers to US exports of grain and oil seed products”. The term biotech is generally used to refer to GM products.
Lobbying from north American businesses has been intense. The North American Export Grain Association and National Grain and Feed Association have both called for the “reduction and elimination of measures related to crop biotechnology that currently restrict or prevent trade in grains, oilseeds and their derived food and feed products”. The American Soybean Association has also weighed in, saying: “TTIP must address the key EU biotech politics that are discriminating against US exports.” This includes removing the EU’s traceability and labeling policies for products containing biotech ingredients, under which they must be clearly labeled, in favour of a looser policy of labeling some foods “GMO-free”, even if this cannot be guaranteed to the same level as current standards require. “Inclusion of biotech ingredients should not be stigmatized with a label,” the organization said.
Mute Schimpf, food campaigner at Friends of the Earth in Brussels, told the Guardian that the EU had shown itself too willing to give in to such lobbying, despite protestations to the contrary, because in a new deal with Canada – outside of the TTIP but related to it – the two have agreed to have a “shared objective” of minimizing the disruption to trade from their different GM rules. “Politicians have been trying to reassure citizens that public safeguards will not be traded away behind closed doors in free-trade deals with the US and Canada. It is therefore deeply alarming that evidence now emerging from a pact with Canada shows that Europe has willingly made an agreement that undermines its own safety regime for genetically modified foods. Citizens must demand that protecting public safety and the environment come before the profits of big business. Europe’s safety-first policies are a fundamental cornerstone and must not be traded away to please industry.”
The European commission says that the EU would not be forced to allow imports of GM foods under the TTIP deal. “Will the EU be forced to change its laws on GMOs? No, it will not. Basic laws, like those relating to GMOs or which are there to protect human life and health, animal health and welfare, or environment and consumer interests will not be part of the negotiations,” according to a Q&A on the EU’s website.