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Trump uses NAFTA talks to try to stop the mandatory labelling of unhealthy foods

The Council of Canadians opposes the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) being used to limit the mandatory labelling of unhealthy foods, including foods with genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

The Globe and Mail reports, “The United States is using the North American free-trade talks to pressure Canada to abandon efforts to curb consumption of unhealthy foods.”

That article notes, “For the past two years, Health Canada has been working toward a mandatory labelling system for unhealthy foods – a system that would place warning labels on items high in sugar, sodium or saturated fat. Officials in Mexico, too, have discussed plans to strengthen labels on food. But in the continuing NAFTA negotiations, the Americans have been urging its trading partners to walk away from these plans, according to sources. …U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer [expressed] concern that countries might use such labels as a ‘loophole to basically create a protectionist environment’.”

The New York Times adds, “Urged on by big American food and soft-drink companies, the Trump administration is using the trade talks with Mexico and Canada to try to limit the ability of the pact’s three members – including the United States – to warn consumers about the dangers of junk food, according to confidential documents outlining the American position. …The administration’s position could help insulate American manufacturers from pressure to include more explicit labels on their products, both abroad and in the United States.”

That article highlights, “Heading off pressure for more explicit warnings through the NAFTA negotiation is especially appealing to the food and beverage industry because it could help limit domestic regulation in the United States as well as avert a broad global move to adopt mandatory health-labeling standards.”

It should be remembered that this type of regulatory co-operation was also a key part of the failed Canada-U.S.-Mexico Security and Prosperity Partnership (SPP) talks. When the SPP talks were launched back in 2005, Canada’s stricter regulations on pesticide residue levels on fruits and vegetables were identified as “barriers to trade”.

And if the Trump administration wants to use NAFTA to limit the mandatory labelling of foods with high sugar and sodium content, it can be assumed they would also use it as a tool to stop the mandatory labelling of GMO foods.

In June 2017, Agriculture.com reported, “The Trump administration will attack overseas regulations that restrict the export of GMO crops and other products resulting from American technological innovation, said U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer at the first meeting of a newly created interdepartmental task force on rural America. ‘We are going to bring cases at the WTO and other venues, we’re going to insist that any barrier be science-based, and the United States will increase exports’, he said.”

The Council of Canadians has supported the call for the mandatory labelling of GM food since May 1998.

We supported Liberal MP Charles Caccia’s private members bill C-287, legislation that would have made the labelling of genetically modified food in Canada mandatory. That legislation was opposed by then-Prime Minister Jean Chretien and defeated in a House of Commons vote in October 2001. In May 2017, we supported similar legislation, Bill C-291, that was voted down by the Trudeau government with 216 Members of Parliament against mandatory labelling and 61 MPs in favour.

Yesterday, with respect to NAFTA, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau stated, “We remain very confident that a win-win-win deal is not only possible, but likely.”

The limiting of mandatory labelling laws in Canada by the Trump administration would not be a win, it would be a setback from public health and consumer choice. We call on the Trudeau government to stand firm on the mandatory labelling of unhealthy foods and to reverse its position and support the labelling of genetically modified foods.

The next round of NAFTA talks is expected to take place April 8-18 in Washington, DC. There are increasing signs that a deal in principle could be reached by April 30.