"Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food"
- Hippocrates. Not a TTIP fan.
WHAT IS TTIP?
The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP, pronounced tea-tip) is a comprehensive bilateral trade agreement that is currently being brokered between the EU and the US, fuelled by corporate giants and conducted largely behind closed doors.
Never heard of it? That's because you're not really supposed to know it exists. The secrecy shrouding this deal is at a level usually only reserved for issues of national security. There should be nothing in a trade deal that puts society at risk and certainly nothing that a Member of the European Parliament (MEP) should be denied access to.
Tariffs between the two trading blocks are already extremely low. TTIP is instead about reducing 'barriers to trade' - rules, regulations and red tape - in order to create the world's largest free trade zone. This may sound good, but these barriers were put in place to protect us as consumers and citizens. TTIP has the potential to seriously jeopardise public health and have disastrous consequences for the environment, while undermining small business, financial regulation, labour standards and privacy.
What could this mean for our food?
The driving force behind these talks has come from agribusiness in the US, previously iced out of EU trade due to comparatively low regulatory standards. TTIP proposes to harmonise food safety and environmental standards, allowing these companies to enter the market. This threatens to unravel the high standards in food safety regulation that the EU prides itself upon, endangering the animals in our chain and the food on our plate.
The systems in place in the EU and US are so strikingly at odds with each other that the idea of harmonising the two is a bit like a child learning to play with shape blocks - no matter how hard little Jimmy tries, the triangle just won't fit into the square. This is where 'regulatory convergence' comes in. Also referred to as 'mutual recognition' and by some, 'turning a blind eye', this would mean that the EU and US would recognise each other's regulatory processes as being equal, despite their differences. A product leaves its port of origin fulfilling its local standard requirements, then behaves on import as if it meets those of the destination port. The triangle becomes a square and vice versa.
Regulatory convergence is asking that the EU's farm-to-fork ethos be recognised as equivalent to the US industry model. This can only lead to a race to the bottom as small family businesses and collectives, organic farming and local food initiatives struggle to compete with cheaper industrial methods and are faced with suffering losses or also lowering their standards in order to survive.
How the US compares to the EU:
- Around 70% of all processed supermarket food in the US contains genetically-modified organisms (GMOs), whereas there are virtually none in the EU.
- Widespread use of pesticides deemed by the World Health Organisation (WHO) to be carcinogenic, mutagenic and reprotoxic - containing endocrine disruptor compounds (EDCs) linked to infertility and birth defects. Currently 82 of these in use in the US are banned in the EU. The EU also has stricter rules on the amount of chemical residue allowed on food when it reaches the consumer.
- Common practice of disinfecting chicken with chlorine and washing pork in lactic acid. The EU's farm-to-fork approach places the emphasis instead on careful processing to avoid any contamination requiring such treatment.
- Use of antibiotics, steroid and synthetic hormone boosters to promote growth and milk yields. 90% of US beef is produced this way. Banned in the EU.
- Recycling of animal bi-products such as chicken faeces back into feed. Banned in the EU.
- The US has no federal animal welfare legislation except rules on the slaughter of livestock, whereas the EU regulates and protects animals throughout the farming process, taking different species into consideration.
- Cloning animals for food is permitted in the US and there is no requirement to label it as such. Banned in the EU.
- Additives and artificial flavours (E numbers) linked to hyperactivity and behavioural problems in children remain in US processed foods, whereas the majority of these have been banned in the EU.
- Reduced transparency on labelling of produce.
- In the US, it is not the responsibility of the manufacturer to prove that a product is safe. Instead the public regulator - the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) or the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) - must build a case, relying on partial and often unpublished data from the manufacturer, before it can be withdrawn from the market. In the EU, the burden of proof lies with the manufacturer and under the precautionary principle, a product can be pulled from the shelves if it is deemed to pose a risk to public or environmental health, without having to wait first for scientific evidence.
If TTIP goes through, products produced under these conditions could flood our market, leading to higher levels of toxicity in our diet. We really are what we eat and we don't want to be that.
Want to know MORE?
WHAT'S BEING DONE ABOUT IT?
So far over 3 million people have signed a petition asking the European Commission to stop TTIP and hundreds of thousands have taken to the streets across Europe to protest the deal.
WHAT'S BEING SAID ABOUT IT?