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Fast Track attack: Chemical safety and food labels under fire in TPP and TTIP

Posted Mar. 24, 2015 / Posted by: Bill Waren

 Fast Track trade promotion legislation is expected to be introduced in Congress the second week of April. Global corporations are calling in all their chits from massive campaign contributions to both parties in the hope of rushing the bill through Congress in the next few weeks. Fast Track would grant President Obama power to sign two sweeping trade deals -- even before Congress has a chance to vote on them.

Chemical manufacturers, global food and agriculture combines and GMO pushers like Monsanto are lining up votes for the Fast Track legislation in order to grease the skids for approval of the Trans-Pacific Partnership with Japan and other Pacific Rim countries and theTransatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership with the European Union. Two of the highest priorities for these companies are to roll back chemical safety regulations and food product labeling laws. Hidden in the text of the TPP and TIIP deals will be chapters on so-called Technical Barriers to Trade, or TBT, which will expose people and the planet to dangerous chemicals and deny consumers the right to know what is in the food they eat.

TBT & product labeling. Global corporations seek to use the TPP and TTIP deals to undercut consumers’ right to know what is in their food and whether the food is produced in a humane manner protective of animal welfare. The goal of TPP and TTIP negotiators is to include “TBT-plus” provisions that are more restrictive of protective regulations than tough World Trade Organization standards. 

This call for “TBT-plus” is astounding given that several TBT challenges in the WTO, paired with allegations of discrimination under the GATT agreement on Trade in Goods, have already succeeded in undermining important environmental and public health measures. For example, the WTO Appellate Body found that the U.S. dolphin-safe labeling program violates the WTO agreements.[i] Similarly, plaintiffs have recently succeeded in a WTO challenge to U.S. measures related to country of origin labeling, or COOL.[ii] According to the WTO, these so-called TBT standards … “involve significant costs for producers and exporters.”[iii]

The dolphin-safe tuna and COOL labeling cases suggest that environmental and public health labeling measures, more generally, would be at severe risk of a TBT-plus challenge, including government measures related to eco-labels and labels for energy efficiency, organic food, and sustainable agriculture.

The tuna–dolphin litigation illustrates how insensitive international trade tribunals can be to arguments based on anything other than pure commercial considerations. Mexican fishing ships off the Pacific coast follow pods of dolphins that swim with tuna. Fishers intentionally target dolphins, “setting upon” them to catch the tuna swimming underneath. The ships use dangerous purse seine nets that encircle both the dolphins and the tuna. Mothers can be killed or separated from calves in the chase. Over 6 million of these intelligent, social mammals have been killed in the fishery since the late 1950s. Consumer boycotts and “save the dolphin” demonstrations over the course of many years resulted in a U.S. program for dolphin safe labeling for tuna products. Most Mexican commercial fishing operations, however, continued to ignore U.S. dolphin-safe practices. They can still sell their tuna products in the U.S., but may not display the U.S. Department of Commerce dolphin safe label. But, this modest and humane labeling program has been repeatedly attacked with success before international trade tribunals.

TBT & dangerous chemicals. Chemicals regulation such as the European REACH (Registration, Evaluation, Authorization and Restriction of Chemicals) system and effective schemes in several U.S. states, such as California, are put at serious risk by the TPP and TTIP chapters on Technical Barriers to Trade. The U.S. trade representative has already targeted REACH[iv] in a USTR report, which names REACH as a trade barrier.[v]

All this would strongly encourage the downward harmonization of toxic chemicals regulation in Europe and U.S. states toward the lowest common denominator -- namely, the U.S. federal government’s Toxic Substances Control Act. TSCA has been characterized by the President’s Cancer Panel as perhaps “the most egregious example of ineffective regulation of chemical contaminates.”[vi] 

The effect of TPP and especially TTIP chapters on technical barriers to trade would be profound as it would limit regulators’ access to the tools they need to effectively regulate the roughly 85,000 chemicals in commerce and to effectively protect human health and the environment. A growing body of scientific evidence is demonstrating that many chronic illnesses on the rise in the industrialized world are linked to exposure to toxic chemicals, including many cancers, learning disabilities, asthma, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease, and fertility problems.[xvii] For example, 216 chemicals are associated with increases in breast cancer, including 73 found in consumer products or food. Among the many chemicals suspected of causing learning and developmental disabilities are organophosphate pesticides, such as melaththion. Everyday solvents such as methanol and trichloroethylene are associated with Parkinson’s disease. Endocrine disruptors, such as BPA, which is found in plastic and the linings of cans and other food packaging, interfere with hormones and may be associated with adverse health impacts including infertility, early puberty and breast cancer, just to name a few. 

The effects on wildlife can be similarly profound.[xviii]  For example, synthetic chemicals are causing infertility in animals, from alligators, to polar bears, to some species of fish. PFOS (Perfluorooctanesulfonic acid) used in stain repellants is a cancer-causing chemical that has been found in European dolphins, tuna and birds like the common cormorant.  The list goes on. Neonicotinoid pesticides are a key factor in the global die-off of bees, which threatens not only their survival but also a vast array of plants and commercial crops that depend upon bees for pollination. Neonicotinoid pesticides have been restricted by the E.U, and some U.S. localities. These important regulations are put at risk by TTIP. [xix]

Other TPP & TTIP chapters compound the problem

The TBT chapters of the Atlantic and Pacific deals will work in tandem with other provisions to heighten the threat of chemical pollution and denial of the public’s right to know what is in their children’s food. For example, regulatory review chapters of the TPP and TTIP will encourage inappropriate use of cost-benefit analysis, inhibiting government regulators from applying the “precautionary principle” when assessing the safety of toxic chemicalsfood imports and genetically engineered products, among others. Overbroad concepts of “discrimination” in the TPP and TTIP chapters on trade in goods could similarly be used to challenge food product labeling laws and chemical safety regulations. The privatization of nature would also be encouraged. As just one example, a leaked version of the TPP chapter on intellectual property provides international legal protections for patents on plants and animals, giving corporations monopolies over the use of parts of the genetic code that are our common natural and human heritage. Provisions on Sanitary and Phytosanitary measures would encourage suits to roll back food safety and animal welfare safeguards.

Stop the Fast Track attack

People power is the way to stop Fast Track legislation. Concerned citizens can make a difference by reaching out to friends and neighbors, communicating to the local press and local elected officials, and by sitting down with their members of Congress to talk about the threat that Fast Track poses to chemical safety, food labeling and so many other sensible environmental safeguards.

SELECTED ENDNOTES


[iii] World Trade Organization, Technical Information on Technical Barriers to Trade, https://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/tbt_e/tbt_info_e.htm

[iv] Regulation (EC) No 1907/2006 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 18 December 2006 concerning the Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals (REACH), establishing a European Chemicals Agency, amending Directive 1999/45/EC and repealing Council Regulation (EEC) No 793/93 and Commission Regulation (EC) No 1488/94 as well as Council Directive 76/769/EEC and Commission Directives 91/155/EEC, 93/67/EEC, 93/105/EC and 2000/21/EC, available at, http://eur-lex.europa.eu/LexUriServ/LexUriServ.do?uri=CELEX:32006R1907:EN:NOT

[v] U.S. Trade Representative, 2013 Report Technical Barriers to Trade, available at, http://www.ustr.gov/sites/default/files/2013%20TBT.pdf.

[vi] The President’s Cancer Panel Report, available at,  http://www.saferchemicals.org/resources/presidents-cancer-panel.html

 

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