Posted February 4, 2015 by Dr. Steve Suppan
The eighth negotiating session for the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership Agreement (TTIP) is happening this week in Brussels. One of the thorniest parts of the negotiations between the U.S. and EU concerns food safety.
Today, IATP published an analysis of the European Commission’s proposed chapter on food safety, plant health and animal health and welfare (SPS), released on January 7, and a January 28 leak of the chapter on “regulatory cooperation”. The proposal for regulatory cooperation covers all U.S. and EU “regulatory acts” (pre-regulatory research and draft proposed regulations, finalized regulations, and their implementation and enforcement), including those of U.S. states and EU member states that might have a “significant impacts on trade and investment” (Article 5).
Additionally, IATP has contributed to a joint NGO statement about the SPS chapter that was released in time for an EC-sponsored TTIP Stakeholders meeting on February 4. IATP’s analysis of the proposed chapters and of the U.S. government’s insufficient capacity to provide the “appropriate level” of SPS protection guaranteed in TTIP, give plenty of reason to doubt that public, environmental and animal health and welfare will be protected, as negotiators have promised.
TTIP and the TransPacific Partnership (TPP) are primarily agreements about ensuring that regulations to protect public health, food safety, environmental health and worker safety are “least trade restrictive,” although the TPP also proposes sharp reductions in import tariffs. Because the public has no access to the U.S. Trade Representative’s (USTR) negotiating texts and because industry demands to the USTR to remove “trade irritants” include SPS regulations, these agreements are extremely controversial, particularly in Europe.
For example, an anti-TTIP rally on food and agriculture last month in Berlin drew more than 50,000 people. In December, the European Citizens Initiative delivered to EU President Jean-Claude Juncker a “birthday card” with a million signatures on a petition to stop TTIP negotiations altogether. If the Congress gives President Obama “fast track” Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) in March, the USTR could present the TPP and the TTIP to Congress for a yes or no vote, since “fast track” TPA forbids amendments and allows very limited debate on the trade agreements.
IATP’s analysis of the EC proposed SPS chapter and the leaked regulatory cooperation chapter, which applies to the SPS chapter, yields the following highlights:
Much remains to be negotiated, particularly more than a dozen annexes that will contain crucial details about how the SPS chapter is to be implemented. The European Commission has promised to publish future negotiating proposals after they have been discussed with the USTR. The Obama administration has made no such commitment for any trade agreement. Indeed, given the Obama administration’s relentless pursuit of whistle-blowers, it is not likely that U.S. officials will leak draft negotiating text.
Members of Congress, without their staff or experts of their choosing, may read the draft negotiating texts in a room with guards posted at the door. The People’s representatives are not allowed to take notes about what they are reading nor may they discuss publicly the textual specifics of the USTR negotiating proposals. If the Obama administration wins fast track Trade Promotion Authority, the USTR will present a final TTIP text to Congress for a yes or no vote, with no amendments allowed. To give fast track a semblance of democracy, the expedited procedure allows each chamber of Congress 20 hours to debate the text it has forbidden itself to amend.
The conclusion of IATP’s analysis urges TTIP negotiators to take a hard look at the very high costs of SPS regulatory and market failure. TTIP’s carefully modulated pressure against regulation in all economic sectors takes place seven years after the deregulation of the financial service industry resulted in the Great Recession in which most U.S. and European citizens still live. The U.S. economy alone suffered at least $12.8 trillion in damage. A 2010 study by a former U.S. Food and Drug Administration economist put the average annual cost of acute (requires hospitalization) foodborne illness at $152 billion. Only part of that cost can be attributed to regulatory failure and only part due to imported food and agriculture products.
However, given that the TTIP economic benefits forecast by proponents amount to a “rounding error” in terms of the EU and U.S. Gross Domestic Product, IATP urges U.S. and EU negotiators to delete the requirement that all SPS regulations must be “least trade restrictive.” TTIP related deregulatory failures could cost a lot more than the negligible macroeconomic gains forecast by TTIP proponents over the next decade or more.
Posted January 30, 2015 by Erin McKee VanSlooten
New school meal standards set by the federal Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act have been getting a lot of press lately. To provide healthier meals, the bill upped requirements for servings of whole grains and legumes. Farm to School programs are one way to meet this requirement while taking advantage of healthy, regionally grown products and supporting local farmers. IATP has come up with a report to help schools add regionally grown grains and legumes to your Farm to School repertoire.
Increasing grains and legume portions in school lunch programs often requires more resources for schools. This year, Congress will pass a new Child Nutrition Act to set a path for school lunches for the next five years, determining whether the new healthy standards are maintained and how much support schools get to meet these requirements and implement Farm to School programs. Check back here for more information as the Child Nutrition Act debate unfolds.
Posted January 29, 2015 by IATP
Trade agreements can affect a huge range of laws and programs that determine how our economies work, how we grow and sell food, and who benefits―or loses. And they lock those decisions into permanent agreements that in many cases supersede state, local and even federal laws.
Shockingly, these powerful agreements aren’t the result of a thorough and informed public debate. While bills in Congress can be contentious, they do provide at least the possibility that the public can weigh in and even influence the final legislation. Under Fast Track rules, trade deals are negotiated behind closed doors, with the final results presented to Congress for an up or down vote, no amendments allowed, and limited floor debate.
Sometime soon, perhaps in the next month, Congress will be asked to give the Obama administration Fast Track authority. Earlier this year, IATP and more than 600 groups told Congress they should reject Fast Track, and instead take new a approach on trade, one that gives a voice to those most affected. We are launching a new webpage called Trade Secrets that uncovers what’s wrong with these new mega trade deals and how they affect our everyday lives, with our first piece focused on Fast Track.
Posted January 23, 2015 by Mallory Morken - @MalloryMorken
About 200 people gathered in Lafayette Square outside of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in D.C. on Wednesday to profess loudly and clearly that our democracy is not for sale. Public Citizen organized the rally to commemorate the fifth anniversary of the Citizens United ruling; and despite the cold and the snow, a lineup of lively speakers and talented musicians ensured that the crowd remained in high spirits. The speakers shared both statistics and personal stories about how the political power afforded to big corporations is undermining our quality of life.
Minnesota Representative Keith Ellison was the featured speaker from Congress. Mid-way through his speech, after a roll call and verbal appreciation for the diversity of issues represented at the rally, he said:
“I was going around asking folks what’s the biggest problem confronting our country? People said, ‘It’s climate change!’- that’s a good one, that’s a serious problem. They said, ‘It’s wage stagnation!’- and that’s a serious problem. Some said, ‘The right to organize!’- and they also have a very good point to make. Or maybe it’s pay equality for women. Big deal, right? But if we cannot let our voice shine through our democratic institutions because they’ve been taken over by big money corporations, then none of these very important issues will be able to come through. Which, in my mind, makes reclaiming democracy, the issue.” [Resounding applause and cheers from the crowd.]
Across the board, regardless of our priorities in our respective organizations, all our issues are affected by the unprecedented ability of corporations to spend millions to influence government.
Rep. Ellison announced that he would introduce the Protect Democracy from Criminal Corporations Act, and that until Citizens United is overturned, this could be a significant step in limiting the political power of corporations. Currently when corporations are caught breaking laws, the typical punishment is a mere slap on the wrist and a fine. However, under the proposed law, criminal corporations would be prohibited from contributing to federal, state, or local elections.
The rally was energizing, and this new bill sounds promising. There are many groups and individuals working together to end corporate personhood and defeat Citizens United, about five million, actually. Minnesota is one of five states that will push for a state constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United, putting pressure on Congress to make the change nationally (see more at www.getmoneyoutaction.org). One of the speakers at the rally drove home the point that even if we personally are not working on the issue, how important it is to share the good news that many people are- and it’s making an impact.
Posted January 20, 2015 by Ben Lilliston
Five years ago today, the Supreme Court dealt a devastating setback to those working to reform our food and farm system. That ruling, known as Citizens United, granted corporations the same rights as people to make political donations. As a series of reports released last week show, the ruling opened the door to a flood of corporate money into political elections – expanding the influence of corporations (not just agribusiness and food companies) over our democracy and government institutions. The good news: a growing movement to take back our democracy from corporate interests is fighting back and winning some real victories.
In food and agriculture policy, the influence of corporate money in our political system is literally everywhere. Last year’s Farm Bill is a good example, where the crop insurance industry flexed its muscles through more than $57 million on lobbying to shift government payments to benefit the industry. From buying ballot initiative wins on GMO labeling and pro-factory farm “Right-to-Farm” rules, to rolling back financial reform that wreaked havoc in agriculture markets, to blocking the fight to increase the minimum and tipped-minimum wage – the fingerprints of corporate money and influence seem to be omnipresent. And we can expect this influence to continue: In just the 2014 election cycle, agribusiness contributed $70.9 million to federal candidates, parties, and outside groups.
Big money in politics and undue corporate influence has long been a problem – but it has become much worse since Citizens United. That ruling opened the door for corporations to spend as much as they want in support, or against, political candidates – and subsequent rulings have torn that door off its hinges. Now corporations and the super-rich can donate to so-called super PACs, which act as shadow political parties, or to dark money political non-profits who do not have to disclose their donors. In nearly all areas of political spending, corporate and private money is on the rise – and not just national elections but state and local elections as well.
The series of reports by democracy reform groups last week roll out some stark numbers:
The good news is that a wide cross-section of advocacy organizations are uniting to turn the tide and reclaim our democracy. More than 120 organizations (including IATP), with priorities ranging from racial justice, to workers, to food and farming, to the environment, have signed Unity Principles to reform our political system. Influential political consulting firms like the James Carville-led Democracy Corps are recognizing that voters are ready to act on big money in politics. In the 2014 elections, democracy reformers won real policy and political wins around the country, including grassroots efforts to support amending the Constitution to overturn Citizens United. There are now more 16 states and over 200 resolutions around the country in support of overturning Citizens United – and more than 5 million people have signed a petition supporting the effort. And states like Connecticut, Maine and Arizona are showing that another political system is possible by using a variety of public finance models to reduce the role of big, outside money in 2014, reports Public Campaign.
Over the next year, IATP will dig deeper into the role of corporate money and influence over agriculture and food policy at the state and national level. We’ll also report on opportunities to support growing efforts to reform our political system.
To shift toward a more fair, sustainable and healthy food and farm system, an accountable and responsive government must keep corporate power in check. It must effectively set policies and regulations that ensure fair markets for farmers, fair wages and safe conditions for workers, and enough healthy food for everyone. The profit-seeking interests of agribusiness and food companies are very different than those of farmers, workers or eaters. Now is the time to level the playing field.
Posted January 20, 2015 by Karen Hansen-Kuhn
We are hearing more and more news from Europe that the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) is running into stiff head winds, and I had the pleasure of seeing this growing storm of opposition first-hand in Berlin last week. I attended a series of events culminating in the WIR HABEN ES SATT! “We’re Fed Up” march, a massive mobilization of people saying no to industrial agriculture. This year, a special focus was on TTIP and GMOs and demanding new protections for animal welfare. This was the fifth year of the march, and at 50,000 people, the biggest so far.
One of the organizers of the march, ARC2020, described the event: “Farmers and beekeepers, tractors and stiltwalkers, samba bands and chanting citizens of all ages made their colourful way from Potsdamer Platz to the Angela Merkel’s chancellery. Their aim? To say no to a broken industrialised globalised food system and yes to an alternative.”
IATP’s Shefali Sharma spoke at the We’re Fed Up rally following the march, along with Alessa Hartmann from the German organization Power-Shift. Shefali spoke about the reasons people in the U.S. are opposed to free trade agreements. We’ve seen what happens when corporations gain power at the expense of family farmers and local economies. “But,” she added, “the corporations and the Obama administration haven’t accounted for the massive organizing of unions, environmentalists, faith and farm groups to stop fast track and set our food systems in a different direction.”
Alessa pointed out that this agreement is not about U.S. corporations taking over the EU food system, but rather a corporate-driven agenda from both sides of the Atlantic. Citizen action must be transatlantic too. Shefali went on to say, “We have a vision for our agriculture that gives power back to family farmers, workers and consumers of the food system to produce agroecological, ethical and healthy food. We have to stop corporations from capturing our regulations that can make this vision a reality! We have to stop TTIP.”
After the march, at the “Soup and Talk” gathering at the Heinrich Boell Foundation, people met to talk about next steps. I met Walter Haefker, the head of the European Professional Beekeepers Association. IATP and ARC2020 organized a webinar last month to consider the possible threats of TTIP on new rules to limit the use of neonicotonoids, a pesticide linked to bee colony collapse. Walter told me that TTIP is already hurting beekeepers, as the European Commission recently gave in to longstanding U.S. opposition to GMO labeling of honey. Honey, of course, isn’t genetically modified, but consumers want to know if the pollen is from GM plants. TTIP could eliminate European consumers’ right to know that fact, especially for imported honey. We all discussed plans for a global day of action against free trade agreements on April 18.
Right now, U.S. groups are mobilizing to block fast track, a legislative mechanism that would let the administration negotiate trade deals in secret and then present the completed deal to Congress for an up or down vote. We’ll likely hear more about that tonight in President Obama’s State of the Union address, which is expected to hold up this tired and false solution for rebuilding our economies. In the EU, much of the center of attention on trade is on investment. Those are key campaigns, and with this kind of massive mobilization, there is potential to pave the way for a different kind of food system on both sides of the Atlantic.
Posted January 14, 2015 by Dr. M. Jahi Chappell & Jill Carlson
What does it mean to participate in a democracy? Does the answer change when it comes to the food system? After all, as IATP’s latest report, Deepening Food Democracy, illustrates, for every corporate lobbyist exercising control in Washington, there is a food movement participant changing the food landscape in their local community.
This past November was in many ways a typical one for American politics—although the turnout rate of just 36 percent of eligible voters was a low not reached since 1942, it was only five points lower than the 2010 midterm elections, and totally in line with the fact that the last time at least half of eligible Americans went to the polls outside of a presidential election year was literally 100 years ago: 50.4 percent in 1914. Happy 100th b-day, minimally adequate participation in American democracy!
Alas, the historically low turn-out is not because things are historically good—food insecurity remains steady at over 14 percent, with “very low food security”—hunger—staying near six percent, or about 18 million Americans. We face numerous other challenges in our food system, alongside continued and historic levels of wealth and income inequality that our politicians seem little-inclined to address. Despite voter priorities and majority agreement on many issues like supporting education, protecting the environment and confronting corporate control[i]; despite the fact that sizeable majority of Republican and Republican-leaning citizens believe in climate change, and believe their elected officials are not responsive to their views; despite the fact that Americans underestimate wealth inequality and cite a much fairer split of wealth as their ideal; despite all this, only about a third of us turned out for an election where two-thirds of us think the country is headed in the wrong direction.
But these seeming inconsistencies are tempered by the fact we do not live in a system that rewards our political involvement with political responsibility. The limited vision of democracy where voting every two to four years is the primary duty, and the full extent of our democratic responsibility, describes what Raj Patel has called a “complainocracy”—a system that makes us cynical, because we’ve been led to believe that this kind of democratic practice is the full flowering of the democracy we’ve been promised. If this kind of hollow, empty process is the best of democracy, then many of us likely reason that we may as well not get too involved in it.
At the same time, we see change and cracks in the edifice showing us that another world IS possible. Indeed, in many ways, it is already here. People know change is needed, and are acting on it—from the Seattle protests in 1999 to Occupy to #BlackLivesMatter; from protests in Brazil over World Cup displacements, to We Are Fed Up against agribusiness, in Germany, the recent protest against police brutality at the Mall of America, and September’s People’s Climate March—the movement from knowledge to action continues. As radical Brazilian educator Paulo Freire said, we make the path by walking it—we learn how to birth new alternatives and live a new democracy in the process of pushing for it and doing it.
This is why IATP is proud to release our report, Deepening Food Democracy, which looks at examples from around the world, but particularly within the United States, where people are creating new ways of participating in democracy; new ways to engage and change our political systems; new ways of making autonomy and food sovereignty—a food system of the people, by the people, and for all people—practical and real. From food policy councils in North Carolina to participatory budgeting around the world, from Rural Climate Dialogues to Citizen Technology Reviews, we are building and living the tools to turn the system around.
In a way, these examples can still seem like so little when matched against the great tidal forces of powerful corporations and unresponsive governments. But we must see these new and growing alternatives for what they are—the building blocks, the tools for large-scale and lasting change. No movement started out knowing it would succeed; those we admire in generations before did not see the end of the path clearly, did not hear the accolades the future would bring them when they went out to push for change; it is only in retrospect that we put all their efforts together into a righteous effort destined to succeed. But we hope that this report shows that we are increasingly equipped to create the better alternative that we dream of, and the next steps towards a just, agroecological, and food sovereign future are right before us. We need only to keep stepping forward together.
Read IATP’s new report, Deepening Food Democracy, for more.
[i] For example, 71% of the general public believes that we should do whatever it takes to protect the environment; 56% believe that corporations make too much profit, and 78% believe that too much power is concentrated in the hands of a few large companies.
Posted January 13, 2015 by Kate Hoff
IATP is proud to announce that our for-profit subsidiary, Peace Coffee, was among the first Minnesota businesses to file as a public benefit corporation (PBC). This is the state’s newest form of business incorporation for for-profit and socially minded businesses.
These filings took place earlier this month on the last day of Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie’s tenure in office. Prior to his election to state office, Mark founded the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy in 1986, and ten years later, under his leadership, IATP founded Peace Coffee as a way to demonstrate that the policies we advocate for internationally can support fair trade businesses that provide fair prices to growers, benefit to the environment and an excellent product for consumers.
Businesses incorporating as a PBC pledge to pursue public benefits among their primary objectives. The new law (Minnesota Statutes 304A) allows for more flexible uses for profits than only dividends for shareholders. Minnesota joins at least 26 other states that provide businesses the option to file as a PBC.
Minnesota PBCs will be required to submit a public annual report that details how they met their public benefit to the Office of the Secretary of State. The public benefit of each corporation is self-defined by the corporation itself and is proclaimed in the articles of incorporation so that investors and the public know the public benefit mission of the business.
“Many Minnesota businesses are eager to file as a public benefit corporation to demonstrate to their community and customers that they want to make a positive impact on society, and not just a profit,” says Ritchie in a press release put out by the Secretary of State’s office.
In the words of Peace Coffee Queen Bean Lee Wallace, “We are thrilled to have a legal structure that allows us to state that we measure the success of our company by the positive benefits we aim to have on coffee-growing communities, as well as our bottom line.”
Peace Coffee started in 1996 as a pilot project of IATP. Owning a for-profit business has added an interesting perspective to IATP's work, as it allows us to fully understand the on-the-ground ramifications of the international trade policies we work on. It now employs 47 people, with three retail locations and a roastery that purchased 681,200 pounds of premium fair trade coffee from farmers in 11 countries in 2014. As Peace Coffee's sole shareholder, IATP's work is not only informed by their fair trade experience but every cup sold helps advance our mission of socially responsible trade and supports us financially.
Peace Coffee shops can be found at: Peace Coffee Wonderland Park
3262 Minnehaha Ave. S., Minneapolis; Lyndale Gardens Lakewinds Food Co-op
6420 Lyndale Ave S., Richfield, MN; and the newly opened counter on the first floor of Capella Tower, 225 S. Sixth Street in Minneapolis. Beans are available in area co-ops, Kowalski’s, Lunds, Byerly’s and Target stores, in various coffee shops and restaurants, and by mail order. For a full list, check out www.peacecoffee.com.
The Secretary of State press release contained a complete list of companies filing for Public Benefit Corporation status in Minnesota.
We were pleasantly surprised yesterday to learn that the European Commission has taken major steps towards respecting the rights of citizens to see what is being negotiated in the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). It published the EU negotiating texts for eight chapters of the agreement, including Sanitary and Phytosanitary Standards (SPS – on food safety and animal welfare), Technical Barriers to Trade (which could deal with such issues as food labeling), as well as chapters on state-owned enterprises, subsidies and government to government dispute resolution. The Commission committed to releasing draft proposed texts for 16 more TTIP chapters, as well as accompanying fact sheets and position papers related to each chapter. This is a big deal. It means that civil society groups and legislators can go beyond parsing proponent claims about TTIP to see exactly what’s on the table in TTIP, at least from a European perspective.
The European Union’s Ombudsman, Emily O’Reilly, issued her recommendations to the Commission yesterday for transparency measures to govern the negotiating of EC trade and investment agreements. Ms. O’Reilly said that of the EU TTIP negotiating texts she reviewed, only those concerning market access tariffs and quotas contained commercially sensitive information that justified an EC decision not to release the proposed market access chapter. She recommended that the Commission require the U.S. to justify why each and every of the consolidated EU-U.S. draft negotiating texts should not be made public.
But the Obama Administration, through the US Trade Representative (USTR), has refused numerous requests from public interest groups and elected officials to make the draft U.S. negotiating proposals public. Earlier this week, Senator Bernie Sanders wrote to USTR Ambassador Michael Froman about the lack of access for Senate staff, save for the staff of two committees, to retain draft negotiating texts to be able to analyze and comment on them after each negotiating session. Currently USTR negotiating texts are available for members of Congress to consult, but not reproduce or even take notes on, only in a guard-secured USTR reading room. Senator Sanders noted that “major corporate interests . . . are actively involved in the writing of the TPP [Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement], while, at the same time, the elected officials of this country, representing the American people, have no or little or no knowledge as to what is in it.”
The USTR is seeking fast-tracked Trade Promotion Authority to approve TTIP, TPP and other trade agreements, such as the Trade in International Services Agreement. Fast track would allow the Obama Administration to continue to negotiate these agreements in secret. Only when the negotiations were completed would the final agreed texts be presented to Congress and the public – for a simple up or down vote. No amendments, no public input. IATP’s new web page, Trade Secrets, outlines the threat to democracy from fast track approval.
At IATP, we’re poring through those texts now, in consultation with colleagues in Europe. Our early analysis of the SPS text raises concerns that the agreement could serve to weaken already fragile food safety rules in the US and undermine progress in the EU. Article 6 of the proposed SPS text would require that any agreements on food safety apply in all jurisdictions of EU and U.S. We’re concerned that this could threaten U.S. state level progress on issues like neonicotinoids (which have been banned in Oregon because they gravely weaken bee immune systems and bee pollination of agricultural plants). These proposals might even be used to undermine rules in EU member states on GMOs and toxic chemicals that go beyond European wide restrictions.
Still, the release of the EC proposed TTIP texts is a considerable victory for the citizens’ movements that have been pushing for transparency in the trade talks since their inception. The fact that EU negotiating texts and meeting reports have been steadily leaking out of the EU no doubt influenced the decision to officially release the negotiating texts, but there is no denying that the EC transparency initiative is a welcome step.
There is also no denying that the US is light years behind the EU on this issue. No publishing of draft negotiating texts or any indication that USTR would consider similar measures appear likely in the future. USTR insists that it meets with Congress all the time, so apparently that should be enough. As a Democratic congressional aide said of the 1600 meetings that USTR claims to have had with Congress about TPP, “Sixteen hundred meetings is great. So is one copy of the deal.”
At a packed press conference (video) yesterday morning, a dozen prominent members of Congress, along with allies from unions, faith, environmental and food and farm groups spoke out loudly against the Obama administration’s proposal for fast track authority. There have been several articles in the media lately asserting that fast track will slip right in with the new Congress, a rare example of agreement among the parties. The press conference’s broad coalition, which represents tens of millions of Americans, is already mobilizing people across the country to demand a different approach to legislating on trade agreements. Rep. Rosa DeLauro, who led the event, insisted that an up or down vote on these complex trade deals is simply not acceptable. Rep. Keith Ellison, head of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, added complaints about the existing procedure, in which members of Congress can see the negotiating texts, but can’t bring in advisors or even take notes.
But transparency is only the tip of the iceberg. It’s what’s under the surface, the contents of the trade deals and their impacts on our economies, environments, and food systems that can really do damage. The legislators and their allies spoke of closed factories and lost opportunities. Rep. Marcy Kaptur spoke of the closure of a windshield wiper plant in her district after the passage of NAFTA. She visited the factory workers in Mexico who “won” the jobs U.S. workers had lost, but were paid too little to emerge from poverty. Sister Simone Campbell, president of NETWORK, a Catholic social justice organization and a leader of the Nuns on the Bus, spoke of the devastation on rural economies in Central America in the wake of the Central American Free Trade Agreement that continues to drive migrants to the U.S.. She called for “trade for the 100%” rather than the lopsided and opaque process we have today.
Trade for the 100% is possible, but not under the current system. The increased transparency, at least from the EU side, is an important step forward. That the simple release of negotiating texts is such a big deal says a lot about how far reaching these agreements can be on so many aspects of our lives and economies. We’ll be digging into these new texts this week. Look for more on the “devil in the details” on food safety in the TTIP proposals next week.
Posted December 19, 2014 by Karen Hansen-Kuhn
One of the big sticking points in the TTIP talks has been the EU’s prohibition on imports of beef treated with growth hormones. EU officials continue to insist the issue is off the table, but U.S. officials keep pushing it right back on. Just this week, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack told reporters at Politico that EU restrictions on hormone beef (and GMOs) were problem areas in the trade talks. “We should be given an equal opportunity to make the case [for U.S. farm products],” Vilsack said. “It may very well be that European consumers decide not to buy product from the United States, but they ought to be given the choice.”
Well, in fact they are given the choice, at least in the case of hormones. According to a new report by Vilsack’s own Department of Agriculture, U.S. sales to Europe of beef raised without hormones have increased substantially over the last few years. It’s an interesting story of a trade dispute spurring new, and apparently profitable, changes in production.
The EU has banned the use of growth-promoting hormones in beef since 1989 over concerns about the safety for human health. The U.S. and Canada won a WTO challenge to that decision at the WTO, winning the right to impose retaliatory tariffs on EU farm goods. In the meantime, USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service began a Non-Hormone Treated Cattle Program, which certifies U.S. beef for export to the EU.
According to the report, in the wake of the WTO ruling (and in exchange for dropping the retaliatory tariffs), the EU created a special tariff window (Tariff-Rate Quota in trade lingo) for high-quality, hormone-free beef from the U.S. and Canada. That program has been expanded a couple of times, most recently in 2012, to provide for up to 48,200 metric tons of beef duty-free (imports over that volume incur additional tariffs). The new window is shared by Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the U.S., Uruguay and Argentina. U.S. firms have been taking advantage of the program, exporting 17,286 tons of hormone-free beef to the EU in 2013 (up from 7,545 tons in 2009, when the program was first expanded).
The report notes that it’s hard to say what would happen under TTIP, since if the restriction on hormone beef were lifted, the EU might eliminate the special duty-free quota as well. In the recently completed EU-Canada Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA), the EU maintained the restriction on hormones in beef, but granted Canadian producers additional access of 50,000 tons per year.
The EU maintains these kinds of restrictions for several reasons. Food safety is a key concern, but there are other factors as well. EU legislation on animal welfare is also considerably more protective than in the U.S. A recent report by the European Parliament noted that if a flood of this cheap beef were to enter the EU market, the effects would be devastating for European producers who grow their cattle under very different conditions.
So, it seems that European consumers are willing to buy high-quality, hormone-free beef from the U.S. if it’s offered. And that, working outside the confines of the TTIP talks, regulators on both sides have found a way to make that happen. If the point is to provide healthier foods on terms that pay farmers a fair price, then it seems like we’re on the right track with existing measures, at least in this limited example. If it’s to expand production of factory-farmed, corporate-controlled meat no matter what the consequences for farmers or consumers, then TTIP is the ticket. I’d choose the healthier cut any day.