Tag Archives: Food safety

The TTIP Talks – What’s OUR stake?


The first essential component of social justice is adequate food for all mankind. Food is the moral right of all who are born into this world.” Norman Borlaug

World Food Day 2013 was yesterday, October 16.  Sponsored by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations the day sheds light on the global status and issues related
to hunger. The World Food Day website (http://www.worldfooddayusa.org) serves as an excellent resource on the facts – statistics, organizations involved in reducing world hunger, events, background materials readily accessible to those who want to know more or to teach others. Focus of the day is on progress towards meeting the Millennium Development Goals to which 189 nations around the world agreed after the 2000 Millennium Summit. First among the eight agreed-upon goals was to “eradicate extreme poverty and hunger.”(http://www.undp.org/content/undp/en/home/mdgoverview/)

There is good and bad news. This month the annual State of Food Security in the World was issued by the International Fund for Agricultural Development, the Food and Agriculture Organization and the World Food Programme. The report determined that “some 842 million people, or roughly one in eight, suffered from chronic hunger in 2011-2013. Chronic hunger is defined to mean that these 842 million people are “not getting enough food to lead active and healthy lives.”

Most of those hungry people live in developing regions (Southern Asia (295 million), sub-Saharan
Africa (223 million) and Eastern Asia (267 million). At the same time, 15.7 % live in developing nations, including the U.S, including Minnesota, including northern Dakota County.  Each day I see those people arrive to obtain their quota from the food shelf at the nonprofit where I volunteer.

Efforts to alleviate world hunger do seem to be having an effect. As of this month 62 countries have reached the MDG target of reducing the proportion of people suffering from hunger by 2015. An additional six countries are on track to meet the 2015 goal. There are signs of collaboration including the Food Assistance Convention (http://www.foodassistanceconvention.org/en/press/press.aspx) which commits signatories to a more efficient and effective response to food and nutrition insecurity. The Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) movement (http://scalingupnutrition.org/about) involves more than forty developing countries, together with donors, civil society, the private sector and UN organizations, in a collaborative effort to end food insecurity.

“Calling for quality, not just quantity” appears to be a growing focus of these individual and combined efforts. The issue of quality standards – in particular who sets those standards – is being hotly contested at the  second session of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership TTIP) talks soon to be resumed in Brussels. As described in yesterday’s post, competing Minnesota interests are on the table in those negotiations – more on that in a separate post.

The real challenge for mere mortals is to pay attention!  The talks do make a difference to anyone who depends on a healthy food chain.  It may take some digging to learn what’s happening – to sort out the players and their ultimate goal, consider the implications on the farm economy, the food business, the environment, and the safety, price and nutritional quality of the food that reaches our grocery store or food shelf.  Though we may not have time or inclination  to master the regulatory details of food standards, it behooves us to pay attention what’s going on in Brussels. Whether we know it or not, we have a stake in the TTIP talks.


What Do Trade, Investment & Regulation Have To Do With Dinner?

The answer is:  Lots!

With all of the news and comment devoted to what’s happening in Washington we may tend to forget that today, October 16, is also World Food Day.  We probably didn’t forget to eat though….

Though World Food Day is truly global in reach, one prism through which to view the what’s happening on the global sphere is to focus on at the second session of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), the all-important trade negotiations between the EU and the US.  Actually the negotiators are on hold in Brussels – the US negotiators are stalled by the furlough of government employees.

While the Deciders cool their heels and gird their loins it gives armchair observers a chance to catch up on what’s happening across The Pond.

The intent of TTIP, nee TAFTA, talks is to fashion a trade agreement that removes trade barriers that inhibit trade between the EU and the US.  The trade relationship between the US and the US is by far the biggest in the world, together accounting for about half the entire world GDP and for nearly a third of world trade.  As such, EU and US investments are the real driver of the transatlantic relationship, contributing to growth and jobs on both sides of the Atlantic.  An estimated third of the trade across the Atlantic consists of intra-company transfers.

Topping the agenda for TTIP talks is the issue of differences in technical regulations, standards and procedures.  Commissioner Karel De Gucht, member of the EC in charge of trade, outlines the agenda for the TTIP negotiations in a talk presented October 10 at the annual Aspen Institute Conference in Prague; the theme of the Aspen Institute conference was “Overcoming barriers to growth:  The full video is online http://ec.europa.eu/avservices/video/player.cfm?ref=I082387.

The term “regulatory convergence” as used by TTIP observers and participants refers to a range of considerations that critics maintain would lower or remove “the rules and standards that govern what kind of food is being produced and how.”  Critics see “regulatory convergence” as a pell-mell descent to the lower common denominator – a potential outright threat to our food supply and safety.

For their part the agribusiness industry has “been very vocal about the special objectives.”  Biotech companies want the EU to relax the restrictions on on-authorized GM crop imports, speed up GM authorizations, weaken safety tests for GM crops, and replace mandatory labeling of GM food and feed with voluntary rules.”

This and other goals supported by the agribusiness block are anathema to many critics, academics, environmentalists, and a host of public interest groups.  The Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP) at the University of Minnesota and Friends of the Earth Europe have published a major paper outlining those organizations’ severe objections to the overt goal of U.S. agribusiness interests.  An excerpt from the conclusions gives the flavor of the report:

Friends of the Earth Europe and IATP call on the European Commission, the European Parliament, the EU’s member states and the US government to prioritise the interests of people and the environment.  To this end they should not pursue transatlantic trade negotiations that compromise democracy, safety, or environmental well-being.

Full text of the position paper, “EU-US trade deal: A bumper crop for ‘big food’? is available at (http://www.iatp.org/documents/eu-us-trade-deal-a-bumper-crop-for-big-food)

The negotiators in Brussels will soon be back at the table.  The forces with an ax to grind will be close at hand.  The reason: Because the TTIP talks do make a difference.  The talks will not garner much media coverage.  Nor will the impact be dramatic or immediate.  The ramifications can be truly catastrophic for those of us who naively assume that the food we eat is safe.

Keeping informed about what’s happening at TTIP — the players, the forces, the issues and potential impact – may require some armchair surfing.  There’s no better starting point than IATP (www.iatp.org) and no clearer goal than that enunciated by Friends of the Earth Europe and IATP who “call for a real trade deal that builds a better future for people and the planet through supporting local food economics agro-ecological farming and vibrant rural communities.”

Such a deal, the partnering organizations say, should aim at the following:

  • Building new economies and improving lives
  • Improving life for future generations
  • Promoting trading conditions in favour of people and environment
  • Bringing transparency and accountability

John Parker, IATP intern, is a bit more blunt when he writes, “We need to begin the work of reclaiming authentic participation in democratic decision-making.  Otherwise we will continue to watch agribusiness steal the game and tell us all to shut up”  (http://civileats.com/2013/10/09/food-democracy-rule-of-the-people-or-corporations/)