The amazingly terrible new spending agreement reached by the House and Senate this week illustrates the heavy price we all pay for a government increasingly influenced by big corporate and financial industry donors.
This backroom deal has been marketed by some in Congress as a “monumental achievement” demonstrating how Washington can get things done. Instead, it’s really a stocking full of early Christmas gifts for corporate interests at the expense of the rest of us. Here are just a few examples relevant to food and agriculture issues:
The efforts by millions of citizens across the country to label food containing GMOs must have touched a nerve. The likes of DuPont, American Farm Bureau, Coca Cola and General Mills are lobbying hard to get a new bill passed that would prohibit state-based GMO labeling laws—also known as the DARK (Deny Americans the Right to Know) Act.
The Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy invites you to join with the likes of the National Farmers Union, Organic Consumers Association and Right-to-Know Minnesota to tell Congress to reject H.R. 4432, The Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act of 2014 and instead to support mandatory GMO labeling laws.
Don’t let agribusiness and big food keep us in the dark about what is in our food. Take action here!
During the fight to pass and implement the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Financial Protection Act of 2010, a favorite Wall Street lobbyist tactic was to organize small and large non-financial business owners to talk with members of Congress about the “unintended consequences” for Main Street of regulating Wall Street. Wall Street didn’t want to be seen as directly lobbying for continuing the regulatory exemptions that lead to the big bank bankruptcies and multi-billion dollar bailouts of 2007–2009.
Instead the Chamber of Commerce, International Swaps and Derivatives Association and other lobby groups’ strategy used “Main Street” clients to promote the idea that global banks such as Goldman Sachs and J.P. Morgan should operate under many of the same rules as small businesses under Dodd-Frank. In sum, they argued, it is in the interest of Main Street business to not reform Wall Street “too much.”
For example, Dodd-Frank exempts municipal electricity and gas companies from having to put money down (margin collateral) to trade to manage their price risks in the commodity derivatives market. (Derivatives are financial contracts that manage the price risk of an underlying asset, such as wheat, oil or a mortgage interest rate.) Municipal companies must provide service to all, and the cost of posting margin collateral for each trade puts them in a competitive disadvantage with electricity and gas companies that can deny service to the poor. Through their lobbying associations, Wall Street banks argued that they are essential buyers and sellers of such derivatives contracts, and sought to benefit from this margin collateral and other Dodd-Frank exemptions for derivatives trading by commercial users of commodities.
Communities across the United States and Europe are working to transform local economic systems so that they are more sustainable and equitable. Many states and communities are utilizing public procurement programs to support those efforts, especially bidding preferences for healthy, locally grown foods, energy or transportation programs that create local jobs and fair markets. Especially in the aftermath of the Great Recession, Buy American programs have helped ensure that taxpayer-funded programs create local jobs and serve social goals. Farm to School programs that incentivize purchases from local farmers have grown in all 50 U.S. states and many European countries. Innovative efforts are also underway to expand this approach to other institutions such as hospitals, universities and early childcare programs like Head Start.
In a move that could undermine those important initiatives, the European Union has made the opening of U.S. procurement programs to bids by European firms one of its priority goals for the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). IATP published a new report today, Local Economies on the Table, which takes a look at what those proposals could mean.
The EU has been insistent on the inclusion of procurement commitments at all levels of government, for all goods, and in all sectors. At a speech in San Francisco, French trade minister Nicole Bricq declared, “Let’s dream a little with respect to public procurement. Why not replace ‘Buy American’ which penalizes our companies with ‘Buy Transatlantic’ which reflects the depth of our mutual commitment?”
A U.S. law requiring the simple labeling of meat and poultry products for the country of origin (COOL) was determined to violate trade rules by a dispute panel at the World Trade Organization (WTO) today.
The ruling demonstrates again how trade rules have been rigged to benefit multinational corporations and run counter to the interests of consumers who want more information about the food they purchase and farmer and ranchers who target local markets.
Knowing where your food comes from is an important right for consumers all over the world. This ruling is also a loss for farmers and ranchers who are selling to domestic, local markets and who want to build stronger connections with consumers. Trade rules should never get in the way of greater transparency in the marketplace. The USDA should not give in to the WTO on COOL in the short term, and should appeal the ruling. In the long term, we need to reform or throw out trade rules that undermine consumers and farmers.
Thousands of farmers, environmentalists and fair trade activists will gather on October 11 in over 300 events across Europe to protest the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) and promote positive alternatives to the current rhetoric of free trade agreements.
Europeans have the right, enshrined in the Treaty of Lisbon, to demand action by the European Commission if they gather at least a million signatures. This spring citizens launched a European Citizens Initiative (ECI) calling on the Commission to repeal the negotiating mandate for TTIP and to abandon the talks for the EU-Canada Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA). Following the European Commission’s rejection of the ECI on TTIP earlier this month, activists launched a self- organized European Citizens initiative. In less than 3 days over 350.000 European citizens have signed up in their support of the initiative.
Yesterday, the European Council published the negotiating mandate for TTIP. This is an important first step towards transparency that goes further than any action taken so far by the U.S. government, although it’s worth noting that the document had been leaked more than a year ago. The Council’s decision illustrates just how important public pressure is in ensuring a democratic and transparent process, but much more must be done to increase the transparency and accountability of negotiations.
Trade rules have always been one of the biggest hammers the biotech industry has had to push genetically modified crops on the world. Nearly a decade ago, the industry, through its surrogates at the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR), targeted the European Union’s precautionary approach to regulating GMO crops at the World Trade Organization and won. Later, Wikileaks revealed numerous cables from U.S. embassies in Europe calling for plans to retaliate against countries that didn’t support GMO crops.
While working on behalf of the biotech industry internationally, the U.S. government has largely ignored the growing opposition to unlabeled GMOs in the U.S. After the Obama Administration disregarded more than a million comments to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) calling for mandatory GMO labeling, advocacy has moved to the state level, where more than 20 US states are considering GMO labeling.
Earlier this year, Vermont was the first state to require GMO labeling without restrictions. The Grocery Manufacturers Association immediately filed a legal challenge to the law. Maine and Connecticut passed GMO labeling laws last year contingent on neighboring states also passing GMO labeling laws. In a few weeks, Colorado and Oregon will vote on ballot initiatives to label GMOs—initiatives Monsanto has poured literally millions into defeating.
From France, which gave us the Rights of Man, we hear the call for the Rights of Citizens from French farmers who yesterday staged a sit-in at Cargill’s headquarters in Paris protesting proposed new free trade agreements. The second largest farmers’ union in France, Confédération Paysanne, unfurled a banner that read, “Holland, Juncker, Obama: Don’t offer farmers and citizens to multinationals, stop TTIP and CETA.” They occupied the Cargill trading floor all day, until they received an appointment with the Secretary of State for French Foreign Trade, Mr. Matthias Fekl.
The two new trade agreements being negotiated between the European Union and the United States (TTIP) and Canada (CETA) are the latest in a long running battle between citizens and global corporations. With each new treaty, the corporations attempt to changes the rules of economic and social life to give themselves control of the world’s natural resources and how decisions are made for their use. More an more, trade policy is becoming a central influence on everyday life.
IATP met Confédération Paysanne and other French farmers at the WTO protests in Seattle in 1999. They brought with them from their cooperatives in the Larzac region great wheels of Roquefort cheese that sustained many of us throughout several days of tear gas barrages. The Battle for Seattle has become the battle for the rights of citizens against the corporations. The French farmers have called us to the ramparts. The message that greets you when enter the Larzac region says, “Le monde n’est pas une marchandise.” We agree.
A few weeks ago IATP received a leaked draft proposal for the chapter on Sanitary and Phytosanitary (SPS, or food and plant safety) measures in the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), being negotiated between the U.S. and EU. Steve Suppan has been tracking food safety issues in trade for decades, and quickly wrote an analysis outlining the ways this proposal could weaken existing standards and make it harder to implement new food safety rules. Like most such drafts, it was partial information, a snapshot of what the negotiators (in this case, probably EU negotiators) hoped to table at the trade talks.
Steve noted that there are fundamental contradictions inherent in mandating “least trade restrictive” norms for SPS regulations that otherwise would seek to optimize public health. The chapter indicates negotiators continue to subordinate SPS regulations to the object of maximizing trade. The text supports the U.S. approach to not require port of entry food inspections and testing, meaning food contamination outbreaks will be harder to trace to their origin, and liability harder to assess—a win for U.S. meat and food companies that could jeopardize food safety for consumers. “While many key details regarding things like GMOs are still hidden,” he said, “it’s clear public health is losing out to corporate interests in a big way.”
A new report released today from IATP takes an in-depth look at how tar sands have developed from an unconventional, inefficient energy source to the spotlight of the corporate agenda as conventional oil supplies dwindle. Tar Sands: How Trade Rules Surrender Sovereignty and Extend Corporate Rights follows the development of energy policy from NAFTA up to current free trade negotiations to illustrate that while energy sources evolve, one trend remains constant: The protection of corporate profits at the expense of human rights, sovereignty and the environment. With new free trade agreements in negotiation, the time for action is here: The public needs a seat at the negotiating table.
The Washington Post’s disclosure last month of yet another leaked EU Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) negotiating document on Energy and Raw Materials (ERM) brings to light the overwhelming emphasis placed on dismantling the United States’ ability to govern its own energy resources. Pressure to repeal the Energy Policy and Conservation Act (EPCA), due to new-found U.S. energy reserves through hydraulic fracturing, stands as most controversial to environmentalist and anti-globalist.