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Hawai'i CFS

WTO Trade Agreement Trumps U.S. Food Safety Policy

May 18, 2015
Center for Food Safety

Consumer Groups Warn That Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), Other Trade Agreements Would Further Erode Food Safety in the U.S.

May 18, 2015 (Washington, DC)--Today’s World Trade Organization (WTO) ruling that provisions of the U.S. country-of-origin-labeling (COOL) program for labeling beef and pork are illegal is a grave blow for a consumer’s right to know where our food comes from.

“Our food safety policies in this country should not be dictated by a closed-door trade tribunal,” says Debbie Barker, international and trade program director at Center for Food Safety (CFS). “The WTO has essentially overruled our democratic law making process, which demonstrates how trade agreements can weaken U.S. food safety standards.”

COOL, passed by Congress as a provision of the 2008 Farm Bill, requires that meat labels in supermarkets indicate where livestock was born, raised, and slaughtered. This sensible consumer protection and safety measure was passed with overwhelming support of the American public.  

The decision today was the WTO’s final ruling as the U.S. has exhausted the trade body’s appeal process. As a result of this ruling, some aspects of the COOL law for meat may need to be repealed in order to comply with WTO trade rules and avoid retaliatory tariffs on high-value U.S. products to Canada and Mexico (the main plaintiffs in the case).

CFS senior policy analyst and food safety expert Jaydee Hanson notes that “COOL is a tool for consumers who want to know how ‘local’ their food is.  Moreover, it could allow the U.S. Department of Agriculture to more quickly determine the origin of adulterated meat and food borne illnesses.”

Promoters of Fast Track and the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) have consistently said that fears over potential negative impacts to food safety and other consumer safeguards are overblown. But this WTO ruling further demonstrates that consumer group concerns that trade agreements such as the TPP are indeed legitimate. The WTO case was adjudicated via a dispute resolution system allowing member nation-states to sue one another over domestic policies that are believed to inhibit trade. Alarmingly, TPP’s investor-state provision would go even a step further by allowing corporations to directly sue countries for policies they believe impede profits.

Earlier this month President Obama said that “critics warn that parts of this deal would undermine American regulation – food safety, worker safety, even financial regulations.  They’re making this stuff up. This is just not true. No trade agreement is going to force us to change our laws.”

Center for Food Safety now calls on President Obama to acknowledge that trade agreements not only can, but have, negatively impacted our food safety standards, and therefore, U.S. lawmakers and citizens must be allowed to have adequate review of the TPP text that applies to food safety standards.

“When it comes to food, and the food we feed our children, we need to know and have the right to know, what is being negotiated on our behalf,” Barker concluded. 

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