You may think that huge international trade agreements are not the most exciting subject for a blog, but bear with me, because what is happening at the moment will affect you directly in the most fundamental way – by changing the food that you eat.
There is a growing tide of protest against the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), a monster of a free trade agreement between the EU and the US that is currently being negotiated.
From my point of view, there are several troubling elements to the proposals and a great danger that our access to fair, sustainable and safe food would be put at risk were they to be agreed. In short, Europe’s highly valued animal welfare, environmental and food safety regulations are all under real threat from interests who are prepared to sacrifice them, so that foodstuffs produced to lower standards in the US can penetrate the European market more easily.
But this is only part of the story. One of the greatest dangers of this agreement is the lack of transparency with which it is being negotiated.
While all eyes in Europe are on the TTIP, many in the US are looking at the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement (TPP). This agreement, which includes countries in North America, Australasia and the Pacific Rim, has some striking parallels with the TTIP, not least protests over the secrecy in which negotiations are taking place.
As with the process in Europe, the influence of big agribusiness is evident.
In its excellent report, released yesterday, the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP) looks at how big meat corporations are shaping the TPP agreement. The report ‘Big Meat Swallows the Trans-Pacific Partnership’ shows how global agribusiness is threatening our food system like never before.
The report makes it clear that, with flat domestic demand, the meat industry is desperate for export markets to keep growing. To achieve this, barriers need to be pulled down in other countries. These barriers could be protectionist measures that support the national dairy industry, for example. They could also be food safety rules, designed to keep consumers safe. In a further concession to big ag, something called Investor State Dispute Resolution (ISDR) would effectively allow corporations to circumnavigate domestic legislation and challenge states if their policies affect expected future profits. Chillingly, this includes food safety rules.
The aim of industrial meat producers in both of these cases is clearly to promote meat consumption domestically and increase exports outside of their trading area by finding new markets and breaking down barriers. This worldwide trend is reaching all regions like never before.
That is why Compassion in World Farming is at the forefront of a growing body of like-minded organisations that are challenging the Commission and the governments of the European Union at every turn, to make them listen and to make them keep our food safe for ourselves, for farm animals and for our environment.
If the Commission is not up to the job, the TTIP and similar deals should simply be rejected. Trade is an important driver for jobs and improved living standards, but only if it is seen as a means to develop a safe and humane food system, not if it is seen as an excuse to abandon it.