Tensions over food safety threaten TTIP, and perhaps soon CETA

Reuters reports, "Europe's reluctance to buy hormone meat or genetically modified food from the United States has exposed an 'enormous gulf' that threatens [the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership between the U.S. and the European Union]. ...Even animal welfare is sensitive in a proposed accord where both sides would recognize each other's standards to oil the wheels of commerce. Europeans said they consider U.S. standards concerning the slaughter of animals as being far lower than in the EU."

Last October, the European Parliament environment committee expressed concern about the regulatory harmonization needed for this TTIP deal, including in the areas of genetically modified organisms and the washing of poultry for sale. In short, the report said:

  • Genetically Modified Organisms: "Whereas the EU employs the precautionary principle and a thorough risk assessment process in determining which GMOs are allowed on the market, regulators in the US assume that GMOs are 'substantially equivalent' to their non-GMO counterparts and allow them on the market without a distinct regulatory regime."
  • Poultry pathogen reduction treatments (PRTs): "While both parties possess comprehensive regulations overseeing the production and processing of poultry, since 1997 the EU has held that only water may be used to wash poultry carcasses for sale on the European market, whereas the U.S. allows its processors to use a number of different PRTs – including chlorine dioxide."

In this context, Europeans should be aware of the high level of regulatory integration between Canada and the United States, including in the area of agriculture and food.

And they should be aware that U.S. corporations have been seeking even further integration. In April 2011, Maclean's magazine reported that the Beyond the Border consultations in the U.S. received submissions from "the biotechnology industry association [which] asked that both countries adopt ‘consistent science-based processes that would significantly decrease the time required for authorization of biotech crops and their products’... [and] several U.S. agricultural groups asked for harmonization of the maximum permissible pesticide residue levels for produce."

We know too that on the controversial issue of genetically modified salmon that an Agriculture Canada memo has stated, "If the product enters the U.S. market before it is approved to enter the Canadian food supply, it could result in bilateral trade complications. Canadian importers would need to ensure that any salmon or salmon product brought to Canada does not contain illegal GE salmon. Given the complexity of supply chains – particularly for processed foods – this could be difficult... We want to work closely with the U.S. to ensure our approval processes for GE animals complement one another and that we avoid any potential bilateral complications. Canada-U.S. regulators work closely together on an ongoing basis, but perhaps there is merit in seeking specific opportunities for them to meet and talk about GE animals."

Council of Canadians chairperson Maude Barlow also writes about the deep integration between Canada and the U.S. in her book Too Close for Comfort: Canada's Future within Fortress North America, particularly in the section titled "Food Safety at Risk" on pages 168 to 172.

The Reuters article notes, "Tensions over food, which have bedeviled many trade talks around the world, risk eroding already fragile public support for a deal that proponents say would increase economic growth by around $100 billion a year on both sides of the Atlantic.... What little awareness there is about the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership could be distorted by anti-globalization protesters, EU ministers have warned."

"Negotiators aim to finalize a deal by the end of this year."

Further reading:
Food dye warning labels and CETA