05 May 2014

Abuse of free trade can harm your health

The adoption of the transatlantic treaty can threaten health protection in Europe, explains Michelle Rivasi and Yannick Jadot, MEPs EELV

Yannick Jadot et Michèle Rivasi MEPs, Greens/EFA Group, European Parliament

A major concern of European citizens is that health is at the heart of the free trade negotiations (TAFTA or TTIP) that were initiated by the United States and the European Union in July 2013. After years of struggling to provide the European Union with a protective legislative framework for health, we risk seeing the 28 Member States jump backwards, endangering essential achievements.

Let us remind ourselves of the urgency of the situation. Despite advances in medicine, diseases related to our environment are on the increase. The French loose 2% of their fertility every year, hormonal cancers are on the rise and chronic diseases affect an increasing number of our citizens. In particular because of pesticides and other chemicals that pervade our daily lives. All of these endocrine disrupters such as phthalates and bisphenol A, which migrate from food packaging to our plates, parabens in cosmetics that pass through the skin, antibiotic resistance, or drug residues that leech into tap water and bottled water. Accordingly, swathes of citizens' health are deteriorating, the deficit of social security is widening, and biodiversity is more under threat each day.

Despite fierce pressure from industrial and agricultural lobbies, the European Union has adopted the most protective legal arsenal in the world, ensuring that the marketing of these chemicals is done so through the strict adherence to the REACH legislation adopted in 2007. It thus forces industry to assess and manage the risks posed by chemicals, and substitute the most dangerous. The EU also defends the precautionary principle and the scientific reality that too many states want to ignore, fighting in the past with France for instance, against air and water pollution by the use of fine particles like nitrates and land pesticides.

All these efforts could unfortunately be questioned with the EU-US TTIP talks. European ambition on environment, agriculture, personal data or energy as well as achievements on health could be sacrificed on the altar of free trade. By the end of 2013, the Commission was required to adopt the definition and evaluation criteria for endocrine disrupting pesticides and biocides legislation, but now it is stalling for time. To avoid offending chemical lobbies, who wield power on both sides of the Atlantic, the Commission preferred to initiate an assessment of economic impacts prior to the development of these criteria. Consumer protection is no longer a priority, and scientific requirements are reviewed only in the light of questionable economic issues.

If signed, TTIP/TAFTA could threaten health protection in Europe. The dangers are many. This is the first push for a downward harmonization of standards. In the United States, the industrial logic that prevails in agriculture is based on modes of production which are very poorly controlled, with abuses the use of growth hormones and other growth promoters for bovine and swine meat and in dairy farming. The U.S. government intends to use TTIP to challenge our precautionary principle and risk assessment and impose its own logic: as the risk is not fully proven, the product can be placed on the market. Then have the danger of ‘mutual recognition’ which would allow products entering one market to get an automatic right of entry to the other.

The U.S. agenda in the negotiations is very clear; our plates are to be filled with GMOs, chlorinated poultry or meat from cloned animals, beef injected with hormones, while our shelves are to be filled with products containing chemical molecules with unknown effects on health. This opens the door to products with unknown dangers, and consumers will be the guinea pigs. 

An even more serious danger is perhaps the absurd moves to further empower corporate firms against states. TTIP provides for a new supranational court that bypasses national courts. Any company can challenge the decision of a local authority of a state or of the European Union if it considers that this decision undermines its commercial interests, present or future, and can claim hundreds of millions of euros compensation. It is this mechanism that has allowed Chevron to attack Ecuador to escape its obligations for the decontamination of water and land around its oil facilities, as one of many examples.

If TTIP is entered into force, U.S. manufacturers of baby bottles may require France to withdraw its ban on bisphenol A, and claim financial compensation! This legal mechanism not only threatens our democratic choices in protecting health, the environment or employees, it is a threat against any state’s ability to act in the service of its citizens. It is hard to imagine under these conditions that the EU will move to deepen REACH in order to deal with the explosion of new diseases, or strengthen the fight against air pollution or food for fear of having to pay billions of euros in compensation to multinationals.

Ironically, the negation of the precautionary principle could also affect the rest of the world. By the sheer size of the European market, our regulations influence chemical producing countries: any reduction in health and environmental standards in our consuming countries increases the danger faced by citizens, including Chinese and Indians, key employees of multinationals who are fond of relocation and social and environmental dumping, making this deal a "lose-lose" for everyone.

François Hollande argued to accelerate negotiations during his visit to the United States without even a word on the 500 million European citizens excluded from talks, done secretly 'on their behalf', but often against them. In June 2013, however, he fought alongside the parliament to demand that his European partners exclude audiovisual and cinema from negotiations to preserve the French cultural exception. However, this is the tree that hides the forest of renunciations. What about a food and agricultural exception? Public services? Human and environmental health? Before it is too late, we call to reject the entire agreement. The democratic choice of applying the precautionary principle cannot be challenged on the backs of citizens. Our health first!

Read the French original version.

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Diane Parker

It is my right to be consulted on where my food is produced and by whom
Politicians are there to represent me and MY views not theirs
I do not want American food. I do NOT want modified food

Patricia Stevenson

These "free trade" agreements amount to the destruction of democracy as global corporations usurp power. Citizens will have no rights and no say about our food, water, health, air quality or the right to a decent living. Action must be taken!

Cherry Lavell

The big corporations seem to think they need not answer to any democratic principles, and rights we have fought for over centuries could be swept away by this appalling deal. It must be stopped.

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