Foodwatch boss: ‘Europeans will not stomach TTIP anymore’

Thilo Bode, Managing Director and Founder of Foodwatch.

The EU-US free trade agreement, TTIP, is a big lie, says Thilo Bode, the director of the NGO Foodwatch, discussing his latest book on the transatlantic trade deal.

Thilo Bode founded the consumer rights organisation Foodwatch in 2002 following the BSE (Mad Cow Disease) scandal.

He previously served as the manager of Greenpeace. Bode’s new book TTIP: The Free Trade Lie. Why TTIP only benefits corporations – and hurts all of us. He spoke with EURACTIV Germany’s Dario Sarmadi.

The majority of Europeans consider TTIP a good thing. Only the majority of Germans and Austrians are against it. Are we paranoid?

Most Europeans are just not correctly informed. My experience is that the more people know about TTIP, the more sceptical they are. We Europeans are allergic to that, if we allow our legislative sovereignty to be restricted. If France is also able to mobilise a majority against TTIP, then TTIP will not come. Not in its current form. The people will not stomach it anymore. They were cheated in the financial crisis, they had to pay for it, and they do not want to pay again.

But the internet is already flooded with TTIP critics, campaigns, articles and videos. Why did you feel you had to write an entire book on it now?

The issue is still not being debated honestly; the advantages and disadvantages of TTIP are falsely presented. My book is a polemic that explains the risks of the agreement and backs up the arguments against TTIP.

In a position piece for EURACTIV, the secretary-general of the centre-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU) referred to TTIP as a “bridge to the future”. He promised worldwide increases in prosperity, which he says Germany can benefit from. Does Mr. Tauber belong to the so-called “free trade liers” you refer to?

Of course he is one of them. Mr. Tauber misinforms the public. He should just come out and concretely say what the outcome of TTIP will be – but nobody can do that at this point in time. The predictions being made in these often outlandish studies on the economic opportunities of TTIP, do not amount to much. And supporters like Mr. Tauber, who refer to these studies, exaggerate the results and often even falsely present them. They turn one-time increases into annual growth rates. They do not mention that there will also be losers. Apparently TTIP’s supporters are so blinded by the idea of free trade that they no longer really see what TTIP actually entails.

What will thrive under TTIP?

Economic interests will gain much greater influence on legislation.

Are you referring to the controversial investor protection clause?

That is only one component. The binding character of TTIP under international law means EU law or German law may not violate standards which were agreed on in TTIP. As a result, our legislators cannot one-sidedly improve standards that are mutually recognised. They are dependent on the approval of their US trade partner. And how probable is it, that standards will be improved in the future – after all, TTIP is about cost-saving and socio-political standards often come at a higher cost. Therein lies the crux of the matter: technological and socio-political standardisations are thrown into one pot.

But TTIP supporters still warn against China. They believe it is better to set standards within a transatlantic alliance than to let these be dictated by China later.

That is utter nonsense. What standards do the Chinese want to set? Standards on chemicals and food labelling? We as Europeans would not allow that. China is not going to dictate to us what kind of safety standards should be applied to baby food. After all, the Chinese and Indians buy European baby food because they want our standards. Of course we are able and even obliged to set our own standards. If we submit to this fear mongering in politics, then we are eliminating ourselves as designers of globalisation. It says a lot about the fraternity of German scientists and economist, that no one is saying anything against this economically outrageous argumentation. You can be sure: Europe will not sink without TTIP.

Chlorine-treated chicken has become a symbol for decreasing food safety standards, but so far adverse health effects, at least, have not been proven. Are we exaggerating the fear of falling food standards?

At Foodwatch we did not make chlorine-treated chicken a symbol of TTIP’s risks, for which it is indeed unsuitable. By the way, I do not believe that TTIP will bring hormone-treated meat or genetically modified products without appropriate labelling from the United States to Europe. But that is not a resounding success. Maintaining standards on food safety is not a consolation but a danger. As a matter of fact, many standards in food labelling, in animal husbandry, in agricultural policy are disastrous. We need better standards, but TTIP practically rules out a race to the top over socio-political norms. Improved animal husbandry is not in the interest of food companies, neither in Europe nor in America.

Should we as consumers also fear worsening conditions under TTIP?

Of course. In the long-term, stronger influence from the economy will lead to standards being watered down. That could happen with chemicals, for example – in the United States even asbestos is still a permitted substance. But the danger in the chemicals industry is not that our high level of chemical safety will immediately be discarded. Instead, it is that suspicious substances will no longer qualify as such if we recognise the American approval procedure. Endocrine disruptors, for example, are substances present in thousands of everyday products and jeopardise the hormone balance. Americans do not consider these substances to be suspicious, while Europeans have a different view. So regulation in this sector is pushed off. That is what the TTIP negotiations show.

In your book, you also criticise the lack of transparency in the TTIP negotiations. Now the EU’s new Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmström released almost everything that there is to release. What more do you want?

But she did not do that. We still do not have an overview of the negotiations. Not even the MEPs know what is going on. We do not see the negotiation documents that contain the position of the Americans. If I do not know these, then I cannot have an overview. The German government’s actions lack credibility when it denounces the European Commission’s lack of transparency. After all it is just as intransparent. What a fairytale Mr. Gabriel tells us: Our children would curse us if we do not agree to TTIP. Mrs. Merkel says our legislative autonomy will not be restricted. In a letter to us, the Chancellery confirmed precisely the opposite. It is an impertinence that we are not comprehensively and correctly being informed on a treaty which would directly influence our lives.

In your book, you do not speak against free trade but, instead, call for a new TTIP mandate. What would a “good” TTIP look like?

I do not have anything against free trade. I also support the idea of aiming to cut costs by aligning technical standards. But we do not need an agreement as highly complex as TTIP to establish technical standards. A transatlantic equivalence agreement for organic foods already exists, allowing mutual recognition of product standards and organic certifications. We need a free trade agreement that is purely limited to technological standards. Precisely because I am for free trade, I say that we must stop TTIP.

Further Reading

>> Read the original German interview on EURACTIV.deFoodwatch-Chef Bode: "Die Europäer schlucken TTIP nicht mehr"

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