TTIP could bring food safety regulations to a standstill: Report

By David Burrows

- Last updated on GMT

Contrary to popular (European) belief, there are some areas in which the US has stricter food safety standards - such as the use of antibiotics in animal rearing, says the report. © iStock
Contrary to popular (European) belief, there are some areas in which the US has stricter food safety standards - such as the use of antibiotics in animal rearing, says the report. © iStock

Related tags: Eu food, European parliament, European union, European commission, Eu

The controversial trade deal between the EU and the US could give multinational companies increased power to challenge food laws that impact their bottom line, according to an analysis by the US-based Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP).   

A new analysis of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership​ (TTIP) highlights how businesses could sue for “anticipated lost profits​” they attribute to new food and farming regulations covering everything from GM contamination and animal welfare standards to warning labels on sugary drinks and pesticide use.

The report, Selling Off the Farm: Corporate Meat’s Takeover Through TTIP, ​is based on an in-depth examination of public negotiating positions, leaked negotiating texts, and industry documents. It comes as the 14th round of talks begins in Brussels.

The authors argue that in each issue they looked at – from climate and the environment to genetic modification and food safety – consumers in both Europe and the US “are interested in seeing stronger, more effective regulations. TTIP will take us in the opposite direction and set the global standard for other trade deals”.

“With TTIP, the EU industry will ensure that pending decisions on critical issues such as cloning, glyphosate and factory farms’ methane emissions are made with trade ‘competitiveness’ in mind and not the public interest,”​ said Shefali Sharma, the report’s co-author and Europe Director for IATP.

Hodgepodge

The investigation also found the big players in the meat industry to be “aggressively using TTIP”​ to lower standards that protect public health, and undermining governments’ ability to create essential labour, environmental and animal welfare reforms.

It also compares the centrally-located EU food safety regime run by EFSA and the “hodgepodge​” of 15 authorities in the US.

This isn’t the first time that​ campaigners have suggested the deal will open a transatlantic door, flooding the market with foods that have been produced to lower environmental, ethical and safety standards. Though the standard of US food regulations has often been painted as lower than the EU’s, it isn’t always the case – the use of antibiotics in rearing animals is a case in point, as the IATP report noted.

A major concern for EU food businesses is that though, technically, a TTIP agreement would not change EU food standards, it might allow consumers to purchase (likely cheaper) foods not otherwise permitted by strict EU laws.

The European Commission has long been batting away such claims. It has stated that TTIP “will not overrule, repeal or amend EU legislation”​ and the EU’s member states and the European Parliament “would not approve any changes to EU laws or regulations in order to liberalise trade”.

Myths not mayhem

It has also promised that TTIP will safeguard the strict standards in place to protect people and the environment, as well as individual countries’ right in the future to set them “as high as they wish”​.

As for companies suing governments if they don’t like new laws: “They won’t. This is a myth,” the online Q&A reads. “The EU wants TTIP to offer protection for EU firms when they invest abroad. ISDS is a way to do this.”

Dominic Watkins, an expert in food law at DWF, said that the court system being discussed is a variant of what already exists. “It has been a controversial part of the proposal and is something to be followed,” ​he explained.  

Myth and conjecture has been a mainstay of the negotiations thus far. The Commission appears tired of reacting to the same issues time and again, but it has done itself no favours by running a closed shop and offering few details after years of talks.

“What’s often forgotten is that this is a negotiation​,” said Watkins, “and that inevitably means that in some areas the EU will get a better deal but in others the US is likely to.”

He admitted there may be risk, but at a time of economic turbulence – only intensified by the UK’s vote to leave the EU last month​ – “agreements that stimulate trade and ensure the same high levels of consumer protection should be welcomed”.

The full report can be downloaded for free here​.

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