13 April 2015

Don't sacrifice our food and farming at the TTIP-altar

As the European Parliament's Agriculture Committee votes on their TTIP-opinion, it's vital we do not lose sight of threats posed to food and farming argues Molly Scott Cato

MEP, Greens/EFA, European Parliament

Campaigners have been right to focus attention on the threat to democracy posed by the ISDS clause within the TTIP treaty, says Molly Scott Cato MEP. But, she argues, we must pay more attention to the risks TTIP poses to our food and farming system, or else it could end up sacrificing our land based economy on the altar of banking and finance.

So far much of the criticism of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) treaty between the US and EU has centred on the Investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS). This would potentially allow corporations to protect their investments by preventing democratic decisions that might reduce their profits. It was therefore encouraging that MEPs in the Employment and Social Affairs Committee recently voted to exclude ISDS and public services from TTIP, something Greens have worked hard to see. However, it is vital that we do not lose sight of the many other threats posed by this dangerous treaty, particularly the risks to our food and farming system, which the Ecologist has been very good at highlighting [1].

In my position on the Agriculture Committee in the European Parliament, I am currently preparing the Green amendments and contribution to the agriculture 'opinion' to forward to the trade committee, which is taking the lead on the Parliament's position on TTIP.

'Harmonisation' puts Europe's agriculture at risk

Agriculture is the most vulnerable sector of the European economy to greater trade liberalisation and particularly to what is euphemistically referred to as the harmonisation of standards. This is because, in general, European politicians have worked to improve and defend animal welfare standards over many decades and stand up to the corporations pushing risky and unnecessary technologies, particularly GM crops but also damaging pesticides. In our opinion we explicitly defend the precautionary principle: the onus should be upon any new technology to prove its safety rather than on regulators to prove that it is unsafe. This is the process we have traditionally followed in the EU but the reverse is the case in the US, which is why the drive to harmonise is so potentially damaging. As Europeans we have refused to sacrifice higher standards for the sake of a competitive "race to the bottom" on animal welfare and food quality for the sake of price.

Another serious threat from TTIP comes in the form of the process known as ‘cross bargaining’. This is where it is accepted that rule changes that have detrimental impacts for certain sectors will be compensated for by ensuring other sectors are protected or boosted. So there is a danger we may see our land based enterprises being sacrificed in order to protect jobs in other sectors, such as finance. Having been allowed to undermine the small business sector by starving them of investment, bankers may undermine farmers and rural enterprises as well.

Lobbyists already at work

Lobbying from the agribusiness and food industry over TTIP has been intensive; far outnumbering all other sectors [2]. Corporations are seeking to use TTIP to attack and force down EU standards under the false pretext that these standards should be based on 'sound science' – a corporate public relations euphemism for 'industry-friendly science' and a direct attack on the precautionary principle.
There are also a host of threats around the harmonisation of meat production and animal welfare standards between the US and EU [3]. For example:

  • the US meat industry wants the EU to begin treating its meat with chemicals, such as chlorine in poultry, to eliminate harmful bacteria;
  • they want the EU to remove the ban on the use of antibiotics as growth promoters;
  • they would like to see faster approvals of new GMO animal feeds
  • weaken EU animal welfare provisions such as pig housing regulations.

And when it comes to animal slaughter in the US, there is very little oversight surrounding the way animals are treated [4]. There is just one humane slaughter inspector for every one million animals. Regulations on the slaughter of poultry are particularly lax as birds are not covered by humane slaughter law and undercover investigations have even revealed intentional animal cruelty. This is an area where few European citizens would even deem to countenance ‘harmonisation’ [4].

Selling out small farmers to avoid scrutiny

After taking on the brief to follow the Agriculture Committee's response to TTIP for the Greens I was cautiously pleased by the warm words spoken by politicians from other political groups in the initial meeting on this topic. However my optimism was misplaced. In an unprecedented rejection of protocol, the two co-rapporteurs, from the two groups where Labour and the Tories sit, actually drew up compromise amendments without consulting several of the other groups, including the Greens. This is the strongest clue yet that the "grand coalition" of central political groups, currently running the parliament, is preparing to sell out our small and medium sized farmers and avoid scrutiny and criticism of the deal.

In response we have submitted alternative compromises with the 5 star movement from Italy and are now working on finding support for these. We will also introduce strong green amendments, directly to the trade committee, chief amongst which are the defence of the precautionary principle and a requirement that each party to the Treaty adopt the standards of whichever authority sets these highest. These may be lost but nonetheless represent principles that must be defended. Of course, as Greens, we would like to see the ultimate amendment: the scrapping of the whole treaty.

The vote on our amendments will take place in the Agriculture Committee on 14th April. Extensive coverage and reporting will help ensure MEPs feel the pressure to do what is right, not just for the farming community, but to all those who eat their produce.



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