The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership is a trade agreement being negotiated between the EU and USA since July 2013. TTIP is one of the foremost phrases in transatlantic relations and will remain so for years to come.
In this blog we want to give regular updates on what TTIP means for consumers. General points on what BEUC thinks about TTIP can be found here.
In this first blog entry I want to focus on the potential implications of TTIP for food in Europe. We have just published a comprehensive position paper on Food and TTIP. Let’s look at what is at stake.
25,000 people die every year in Europe because of problems with antimicrobial resistance so there is real, rational reason to exercise caution on the use of antibiotics in food.
While the use of antibiotics, hormones and beta-agonists for growth promotion has been banned in food production within the EU, American farmers can legally administer growth promoting antibiotics to animals bred for food. We need to see that any future TTIP agreement allows the EU to continue setting high safety standards in food. This includes a prohibition on the use of veterinary drugs for growth promotion, but also on the import and sale of animal foods which have undergone such treatments.
An EU survey in 2010 found that more than half of Europeans worry about the presence of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) in their food. This is why BEUC believes that putting mandatory labelling of GM products up for discussion is a red line which should not be crossed. Furthermore, GMOs approved in the US should not be authorised de facto in the EU for cultivation and food on the basis that the EU must recognise US food safety standards.
In the EU, food safety is guaranteed by the ‘farm to fork’ approach, meaning food safety needs to be ensured throughout the production chain. The US system, on the other hand, mostly verifies the safety of the end product and is therefore more prone to pathogen reduction treatments such as chickens washed in chlorine at the end of the production process. It may not come as a surprise that the US poultry industry is very vocal that any TTIP deal would have to remove the EU ban on chlorinated chicken imports. From a consumer point of view this would be totally unacceptable. They deserve to continue relying on the well-established EU approach to have safe meat on their plate.
Cloning is a relatively new technology and evidence of its impact is still very limited. Yet, The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) admitted that animal welfare is affected as clones suffer severe health problems and most of them die prematurely or need to be euthanized. An overwhelming 83% of consumers have said “no” to steak and milk from clones and their offspring.
The EU should be in a position to require guarantees from its trading partners that the meat they export is not from cloned animals, their offspring or descendants – at least until mandatory labelling can be put in place. There is huge pressure against such demands as traceability systems for cloned food do not exist in the United States, Argentina and Brazil.
Running risks to European consumers’ health cannot be justified on the basis of potential economic benefits from TTIP. (By the way of example, our Austrian member AK has been very critical of the studies underpinning the Commission’s claims.) Having said this, there are ways to achieve positive outcomes for consumers when it comes to food.
Recent food scandals revealed that, on both sides of the Atlantic, businesses do not have a strong enough grip on their supply chain and are not always fully aware of where ingredients they put in their products come from. US and EU authorities should use TTIP as an opportunity to better cooperate on animal identification systems as animals for food are often transported globally.
Additionally, TTIP is a great opportunity for both partners to optimise information exchange in order to quickly identify sources of food contamination. A food alert system could make our food safer on both sides of the Atlantic.
If the EU wants to conclude a trade deal which benefits consumers it should focus on measures which go beyond just making life easier for companies.
It will be a long time until negotiations lead to a deal. BEUC will follow them closely and make sure the rights of European consumers are safeguarded at every step.