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26 March 2014
We defend the right to healthy, safe food: We won't trade this away in TTIP
In the EU, we have fought continuously to improve standards for health and the environment in agriculture and food production. Battles with large agri-industrial and biotech corporations have never been easy. The Greens in the European Parliament have defended safe, healthy food through the precautionary principle, a core pillar of EU food and environment policy. Corporations have been trying to undermine it for years. Now they have even more of a chance through TTIP.
The precautionary principle says: if a risk or danger to humans, animals or the environment cannot be ruled out in a product or process, that product or process is banned. You need to be able to demonstrate that there is absolutely no risk before you can put something on the market. In the US, the opposite is true - you need to be able to prove that something is hazardous before it is taken off the shelf. This is a fundamental difference. In the EU we expect to be protected before something happens. In the US, they expect to be able to sue when something does.
Under TTIP, big business is teaming up on both sides of the Atlantic to challenge the precautionary principal, claiming it creates unnecessary 'technical barriers to trade'. We are fundamentally against this dangerous assumption. If anything, we need to do more in the EU to safeguard our citizens and our environment from untested or risky substances or processes. If the US successfully argues that the precautionary principal is "unscientific, ..burdensome, discriminatory, ..unwarranted and create significant barriers to U.S. exports", then we will see our hard-won standards for food dismantled in front of our eyes.
Diminishing standards through the backdoor
Negotiators from DG Trade in the European Commission claim that our regulations and standards will not be affected as a result of TTIP. Perhaps they believe this. But the threat is more covert and concealed than what they let on.
For instance, TTIP will result in the 'mutual recognition' of many standards, which will say that standards in an EU sector are equal to standards in that same sector in the US. In the food sector, this idea is full of flaws. Take beef as an example. For years the US has wanted to sell us their beef, but meat injected with growth hormones (a regular procedure in the US) is banned in Europe. A TTIP deal could say that processes and standards used to produce US beef is equivalent to the processes the EU uses. Not only is this deceptive, it would pave the way for hormone injected beef to be sold in the EU. The Commission vehemently denies that this will happen, yet it is still an offensive interest of the US to do so, and so remains on the table. Thus, TTIP may not necessarily change EU standards through 'mutual recognition', but it will undermine their standing entirely.
Furthermore - if industry-processed US beef or chlorinated chicken floods the EU market, our farmers will be priced out, even though they are delivering a higher quality product by abiding by EU regulations. This will put extreme internal pressure on our institutions to dismantle the precautionary principal. We cannot let this happen.
Right to regulate under attack
Proposals for future regulatory cooperation between EU and US under TTIP are just as worrying. The deal envisions the establishment of a Regulatory Cooperation Council ‘that would allow early intervention by US and EU regulators in each other’s rulemaking processes.’ Organisations like the Corporate Europe Observatory have warned that such an oversight body would give multinationals privileged access and influence over proposed EU or US laws before they're even brought to national parliaments. We believe this is an assault on our democratic right to regulate. It could majorly impair our democratic institutions ability to legislate by creating a "chilling effect" on proposals aimed at enhancing the public good, but that go against the interests of private companies trading in both regions. It could impact the extent to which our food is labelled or what processes become acceptable in the making of our food, among many. The Greens will not accept any trade deal that undermines democratic institutions right to regulate.
Public outcry against TTIP has also been duly factored into its design. Negotiators are seeking to create a "living agreement" which will allow for continuous harmonisation of standards and regulations over time. Therefore, companies that meet public opposition now can address their regulatory adjustments at a later stage when pressure from the public dissipates. Here, the EU's opposition to GMOs could face sustained attacks.
We must resist efforts by multinationals to undermine our democracy and the precautionary principal through TTIP. Our food standards are vastly different in both regions. The EU’s is not yet as dysfunctional as in the USA- but our fight to ensure quality here in Europe is under serious risk of sabotage. Many in the US are doing all they can to mend their broken food system, and there is concern that TTIP will erode these initial efforts. We don't want to reach the lowest common denominator for food and agriculture. TTIP will be the starting gun for a race to the bottom. It is time for all of us, our farming community, our citizens, and anyone who enjoys safe and healthy food, to become aware of what is being negotiated away- and to do everything in our power to stop it.