NGOs call for more transparency over food in EU-US trade talks


Civil rights groups in the European Union and the United States have urged their representatives to make the negotiating texts for a mooted trade deal between the two blocs publicly available, out of concern they may loosen standards.

A number of EU and US organisations, including consumer affairs, labour, transparency, environmental and trade groups, are concerned that negotiators may weaken the health and environmental standards in their bid to smooth over regulatory differences between the two blocks.

These ‘non-tariff barriers’ are seen as the main stumbling block in the food and agriculture chapters of Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership.The civil rights groups have singled out rules such as the US ban on the import of feed ingredients with ruminant material, which were associated with the spread of mad cow disease, and EU chemicals legislation.

The 28-country bloc also prevents farmers from treating meat with chemicals such as chlorine, tri-sodium phosphate and hypobromous acid, which are used in the US to sterilise poultry carcasses.

There are similar concerns about the US use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and growth hormones such as ractopamine, which is used on pigs raised for meat.

In December, the head of the farmers and agri-cooperatives association, Pekka Pesonen, warned that such practices could give US producers a “competitive advantage” over European farmers.

EU’s chief negotiator on the TTIP, Ignacio Garcia Bercero, has since sought to allay fears by declaring that food safety standards were non-negotiable.

“Hormones are prohibited, there is a strict regime of genetically modified organisms and this is not going to go away,” he declared.

Last week US senators expressed shock at the European Commission’s insistence on geographical indicators, such as on cheeses or wines, including on those produced in the United States.

In the EU, these indicators are designed to protect the heritage of the product and the income of the local communities that produce them.

Negotiations between the US and the EU on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) started in July 2013 and are on-going with a new round starting today (10 March).

If successful, the deal would cover more than 40% of global GDP and account for large shares of world trade and foreign direct investment. The EU-US trade relationship is already the biggest in the world, and the EU’s trade directorate claims that it will increase by up to €119 billion in a comprehensive agreement that eliminates trade barriers.

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