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Europeans sound the alarm on CETA and genetically modified food

Photo: Friends of the Earth Europe food campaigner Mute Schimpf.

Photo: Friends of the Earth Europe food campaigner Mute Schimpf.

The Guardian UK reports on the increased risk of genetically modified food entering Europe as a result of the Canada-European Union Comprehensive Economic Trade Agreement (CETA) and the United States-Europe Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP).

The newspaper says, “The European commission has strongly denied that the [Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership] would allow North American companies to circumvent EU food standards, particularly with regard to genetic modification. A spokesman for the commission told the Guardian: ‘TTIP will not change the way we regulate GMOs [genetically modified organisms] in Europe.’ …However, documents from various US and Canadian government agencies and business trade bodies suggest strong pressure is being brought to bear from US industries to allow GM products and other foods into EU markets that would violate the EU’s current standards, in the name of free trade.”

“The US Department of Agriculture and Foreign Agricultural Service has explicitly identified ‘the EU’s non-tariff barriers to US agricultural products’, specifying in particular ‘long delays in reviews of biotech products [that] create barriers to US exports of grain and oil seed products’. …The North American Export Grain Association and National Grain and Feed Association have both called for the ‘reduction and elimination of measures related to crop biotechnology that currently restrict or prevent trade in grains, oilseeds and their derived food and feed products’.”

“Mute Schimpf, food campaigner at Friends of the Earth in Brussels, told the Guardian that the EU had shown itself too willing to give in to such lobbying, despite protestations to the contrary, because in a new deal with Canada – outside of the TTIP but related to it – the two have agreed to have a ‘shared objective’ of minimising the disruption to trade from their different GM rules.”

The European Commission has argued with respect to TTIP that, “There is no contradiction between a commitment to seek ‘least trade restrictive measures’ and the enforcement of high safety standards. We want to foster safe trade.”

But Schimpf argues, “Politicians have been trying to reassure citizens that public safeguards will not be traded away behind closed doors in free-trade deals with the US and Canada. It is therefore deeply alarming that evidence now emerging from a pact with Canada shows that Europe has willingly made an agreement that undermines its own safety regime for genetically modified foods. Citizens must demand that protecting public safety and the environment come before the profits of big business. Europe’s safety-first policies are a fundamental cornerstone and must not be traded away to please industry.”

And the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP), Friends of the Earth Europe, and Compassion in World Farming have stated, “The SPS [Sanitary and Phytosanitary] committee referenced in the TTIP chapter, as well as the dispute settlement mechanism of TTIP, will judge whether food safety measures are ‘least trade restrictive’ and ‘equivalent’. This is highly problematic, because the EU’s Precautionary Principle has clearly been under attack in the WTO and under TTIP by agribusiness. The US insists on certainty that something is unsafe (an approach favoured in WTO SPS language), as opposed to Europe’s use of the Precautionary Principle (which focuses on preventing risk in the first place even in the absence of full scientific certainty). US rules on food safety rely heavily on industry studies with severe conflicts of interest.”

Food Secure Canada has cautioned, “There is no provision that specifically allows for trade in GM food crops.” But they do highlight that, “The Canadian biotech and pesticide industry group, CropLife Canada, has celebrated the agreement. …According to CropLife Canada, CETA establishes a biotechnology working group in order to shorten the timelines for the approval of genetically modified crops for cultivation in the EU, to strengthen ‘science-based’ regulation and to revise the ‘low-level presence’ policy for non-GMO imported commodities.”

The Council of Canadians has long opposed genetically modified food, supported the mandatory labelling of genetically modified food, and shares the concern that ‘least trade restrictive’ food safety measures, the CETA biotechnology working group, the investor-state provision and the combination of CETA and TTIP pose real risks to food safety.