Since the meeting between US president Trump and [then] EU Commission president Juncker in July 2018, EU and US trade officials have disagreed on the inclusion of food safety issues in the negotiations.
US trade and agriculture officials made it clear from the beginning that one of their key interests is to open up EU markets further for more US food exports1, whilst Juncker insisted that agriculture tariffs as well as food safety rules were not part of the EU negotiating mandates.2
US trade officials and industry lobby groups have complained for years about various EU food standards acting as trade barriers, resulting in two disputes at the World Trade Organization (WTO) on differences in food safety rules. In the context of the new trade negotiations, industry lobbies from both sides of the Atlantic have made various demands once again for EU food safety rules to be weakened or bypassed.
There is thus a big risk that the EU will weaken European food safety rules outside the officially mandated negotiations.
Trade talks with the US leading to weakening standards – this has happened before. During the previous negotiations on an ominous trade deal called TTIP, the EU Commission was willing to bypass some of its meat hygiene rules.4
Usually in the EU the whole meat supply chain is strictly monitored to ensure public health standards are maintained. On the contrary, the US meat hygiene rules focus only on the final step in the slaughterhouses, with scarce protection of workers and the environment. Additionally, meat is often rinsed with chemicals, purportedly to reduce microbial contamination on the carcasses.
In 2012 the EU Commission pushed the Parliament to accept changes in EU rules in order to allow beef to be rinsed in lactic acid, thereby supporting the import of American beef. In 2018 the US national pork producer council has officially requested that the EU would also allow the use of lactic acid for pork meat, which the EU Commission5 is already preparing. This would make it easier for US pork meat exporters to access the European market and would seriously undermine health protection in Europe.
This shows that despite the Commission’s statements that food safety standards are not part of the mandated negotiations, US pressure to lower standards is working and the EU is in fact already giving in to it, jeopardising the health of citizens involved.
But that’s not all! The US is also lobbying hard to use trade talks to push a new generation of GMOs onto our plates and into our fields. The European Union has stressed that genetically modified organisms would not be discussed in the trade talks, but the US government – backed by the biotech industry on both sides – is continuing push ahead. Their biggest aim is to exclude a new generation of GMOs from the EU’s strong safety laws – including labelling and authorisation requirements.
What the US Wheat Association says:
“Given the current uncertainty about how the EU will regulate these new breeding techniques, particularly considering the recent European Court of Justice opinion… all efforts should be made to ensure that these technologies do not impede access to the EU market.”6
Discussions between the EU and the US should aim to protect people and the planet, not the meat industry or biotech industry.
Food safety and environmental standards for food production must not be viewed as barriers to trade, but as critical and necessary conditions to create a clean and sustainable future and to secure the right of consumers to make informed decisions about the food they eat.
Harmonisation of standards should only take place if it increases the level of protection, and not simply aim to increase trade and reduce costs for business, at the cost of citizen’s health and the environment.