Public opposition to free trade agreements, like the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), that serve to increase inequality and concentrate corporate power has reached a loud crescendo. We got to this point through years of effort by thousands of civil society groups around the world, reaching out to educate people on the likely impacts of the very specific rules embedded in those documents, as well as defining alternatives for our economies, environments and food systems. That debate was never simply about trade; it was about decisions on the kinds of economies and societies we choose to accept.
And it’s not over yet. As public pressure continues this year, whether through vibrant events like Rock Against the TPP ! or organized pressure on specific members of Congress, there is a concerted demand by progressive civil society organizations and leaders to halt current trade agreements and to insist on a different process, different rules, and a different vision of what comes next. We need trade policy that serves to reduce inequality, build local economies and enhance environmental sustainability.
This imaginary message from a truck driver hauling 15 tons of a nano-copper (Cu) and nano-silicon (Si) powder could one day be the start of a very real accident. To think through the scientific and practical aspects of accident response preparation and intervention, U.S. and European participants, mostly scientists at an early June workshop in Washington DC on the environmental, health and safety (EHS) effects of exposure to nanomaterials, were asked to advise risk managers about EHS risk factors resulting from this and one other fake nano-accident scenario. Four hours after the truck rollover, “Nano Inc.” risk managers had to explain to public officials, to their employees and to the media what they had done to protect an elementary school, residential high rises and a business district, all downwind from the accident site. Wind, with gusts of up to 20 miles an hour, was blowing atomic to molecular size nano-particles with laboratory-characterized EHS risks. I was one of two risk managers for the nano-CU scenario.
While food and agriculture were not on the official agenda for the latest round of Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) negotiations, July 11-15 in Brussels, the intense debate generated by Greenpeace Netherland’s leaks of 14 chapters of the draft agreement continue to reverberate through the trade policy world. Consumer and other civil society groups, having scrutinized the official texts, are pressing for major changes in the agreement’s alarming “innovations” in setting standards on agricultural animal health and welfare, plant health and food safety (in trade policy terminology, Sanitary and Phytosanitary Standards or SPS).
The Transatlantic Consumer Dialogue (TACD), an alliance of about 25 U.S. and 50 European NGOs, for which IATP serves as the U.S. co-chair of the Food Policy Committee, published a resolution on the TTIP SPS chapter in January. Because the Obama administration refuses to make public its negotiating proposals, TACD developed its resolution by using the SPS chapter of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) as a proxy for the U.S. SPS positions in TTIP. In July, TACD published an update to its January resolution that made recommendations to the European Commission (EC) Directorate General of Trade (DG Trade) and to the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) on the basis of their negotiating proposals, as published by Greenpeace.
On July 1, Vermont’s law requiring the labeling of genetically modified foods will go into effect. That simple requirement to inform consumers about what they are eating sent a shiver through a Congress hooked on millions of dollars in biotech and food industry money. In a last minute desperate attempt to block the Vermont bill, Senate Agriculture Committee leaders Pat Roberts and Debbie Stabenow proposed a new mandatory Genetically Modified Organism (GMO) labeling bill that would pre-empt the rights of states like Vermont to set labeling rules for GMO food.
The problem with the compromise is that it’s not really a compromise – it’s very close to what Monsanto and the food industry asked for. The industry’s priority was to avoid at all costs mandatory language or a GMO symbol on food products. The compromise bill gives food companies two options: they can use a symbol or clear language that the product contains GMOs, or they can use a bar code or QR code that could be accessed by the consumer through a smartphone. Smaller food companies would have the option to just list a website or an 800 number for consumers to find out whether the food contains GMO ingredients. Wonder which options the food companies using GMO ingredients will choose?
Many consumers don’t have smartphones to access QR codes or the instant high-speed internet access necessary to check a website on the spot when buying foods. And do you want to call an 800 number with each individual food purchase?
The proposed Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) between the U.S. and the European Union has been negotiated in secret – preventing the public from knowing what exactly is on the negotiating table. In May, TTIP text was leaked by Greenpeace Netherlands. The leaked text provides a snapshot of the status of the talks. Review of the leaked TTIP text—U.S. and EU proposals along with an EU “Tactical State of Play” document— provides important insights into the direction of the trade talks, and raises alarm bells for advocates of fair and sustainable food and farming systems. This is part three in a five part series.
Though the main critique of TTIP has been its sweeping impacts on rule making and standard setting in the two regions, further agricultural tariff liberalization will have a major impact, in particular in the E.U. The leaks offer a first look at which agricultural goods will be on the line. While average tariffs on goods traded between the U.S. and EU are quite low, those figures obscure substantial differences on key products, some of which currently protect vulnerable farming sectors that are already suffering from low prices and unstable markets. In a memo describing tariff reduction offers dated November 20, 2015, the EU notes the intention under TTIP to eliminate tariffs on 97 percent of goods. While exactly how this will play out will only become clear during the final “endgame” of the negotiations, the memo describes substantial, and in many cases, abrupt changes in tariffs on farm goods. As of November, the EU was offering to lower more tariffs than the U.S., but in the latest round of negotiations in April, the U.S. reaffirmed its goal for total tariff elimination. The EU still opposes this position in the interest of its most sensitive agriculture products.
The proposed Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) between the U.S. and the European Union has been negotiated in secret – preventing the public from knowing what exactly is on the negotiating table. In May, TTIP text was leaked by Greenpeace Netherlands. The leaked text provides a snapshot of the status of the talks. Review of the leaked TTIP text—U.S. and EU proposals along with an EU “Tactical State of Play” document— provides important insights into the direction of the trade talks, and raises alarm bells for advocates of fair and sustainable food and farming systems. This is part two in a five part series.
One of the EU’s key offensive interests in the trade talks has been to open U.S. public procurement programs at all levels of government to bids by EU firms, removing policies that support local employment, local content or portions of contracts set aside for small businesses. While many states have agreed to those kinds of commitments in previous trade deals (although the number has dwindled in recent agreements), this could mean an unprecedented expansion to municipal and county governments and agencies. As indicated in the Tactical State of Play document, so far, the U.S. has been cool to proposals to commit local governments on procurement. Exactly which state or local governments or institutions would agree to those commitments would be indicated in an annex to the Procurement chapter text. That annex was not leaked, and probably doesn’t yet exist.
The proposed Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) between the U.S. and the European Union has been negotiated in secret – preventing the public from knowing what exactly is on the negotiating table. In May, TTIP text was leaked by Greenpeace Netherlands. The leaked text provides a snapshot of the status of the talks. Review of the leaked TTIP text—U.S. and EU proposals along with an EU “Tactical State of Play” document— provides important insights into the direction of the trade talks, and raises alarm bells for advocates of fair and sustainable food and farming systems. This is part one in a five part series.
To judge by the U.S. proposals in the leaked TTIP chapter on Sanitary and Phytosanitary (SPS) measures, which includes food safety rules, the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) is seeking to export a flawed regulatory system to the EU, a system based on risk assessments that rely often on inadequate, secret data. While the leak indicates that the U.S. is trying to use TTIP to impose its weaker system for setting and enforcing SPS standards on the EU, this new transatlantic regulatory regime would also limit efforts in the U.S. to improve food safety standards and performance.
A new report from Friends of the Earth (FoE), “Nanoparticles in baby formula: Tiny ingredients are a big concern,” will prompt a lot more commentary than can be summarized in this blog.
Two questions likely to be raised in all commentaries:
Answering these questions may seem as simple as, well, child’s play. The simple answer is if governments refuse to regulate, companies will do what they perceive to be in their economic interest. As anyone who has watched children play, their activity is not simple.
A long standing claim by the U.S. government and agribusiness lobby is that U.S. regulations on genetically engineered (GE) crops are science-based while European regulations are not. For example, an April 8 letter from the American Soybean Association to the U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman and U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Tom Vilsack, states that “approval of these events [three GE soy crops] is now needed for the EU Commission to have any semblance of a working biotech approval system.” A “working biotech approval system” is that of the United States, which invariably “approves” GE crops, i.e. deregulates them, on the basis of an agency review of data and studies, some classified as Confidential Business Information, submitted by the GE crop developer.
This approach has been in place for two decades. For example, a Food and Drug Administration letter to Monsanto in 1996 states, “Based on the safety and nutritional assessment you have conducted, it is our understanding that Monsanto has concluded that corn products derived from this new variety are not materially different in composition, safety, and other relevant parameters from corn currently on the market, and that the genetically modified corn does not raise issues that would require premarket review or approval by FDA.” A 2013 FDA letter to Monsanto regarding a GE soybean “event” deregulates the product, but does not approve it, in almost identical language.
The Committee on World Food Security (CFS) is the foremost international and intergovernmental platform trying to address global food security and nutrition challenges. The current version of the CFS emerged following the food crises of 2008 as a result of a reform process that sought to increase stakeholder participation, especially participation by those engaged in small scale food production systems. Its High-Level Panel of Experts on Food Security and Nutrition (HLPE) mechanism was created in 2010 as part of the reform to be “the science-policy interface of the UN Committee on World Food Security (CFS),” and “aims to improve the robustness of policy making by providing independent, evidence-based analysis and advice at the request of CFS.”
Since its establishment, the HLPE has taken on issues related to food security and nutrition, including last year’s report “Water for food security and nutrition,” which was co-authored by IATP senior policy analyst Shiney Varghese.
At its recent October 2015 session, the CFS decided that the HLPE will prepare a report on Nutrition and Food Systems, which is expected to be presented at CFS 44 in October 2017. As an initial step in this process, there was an “e-consultation” to seek feedbacks, views and comments on the relevant issues. Comments contributed by IATP’s Senior Staff Scientist, Jahi Chappell, were posted to their e-consultation website, and are reprinted below: