The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) is a trade agreement that is presently being negotiated between the European Union (EU) and the United States (US). Its aim is to remove trade barriers in a wide range of economic sectors, including the agricultural and food sector, to make it easier to buy and sell goods and services between the EU and the US. The TTIP negotiations are conducted behind closed doors and negotiating texts are not made available to the public. However, through a number of leaks, some content of the negotiations reached the press and public. This caused an increase in concerns about the negotiations, especially regarding food safety.
TTIP negotiations are addressing a broad range of areas, but decisions on food and farming issues will impact the everyday lives of citizens on both sides of the pond. Key to the TTIP negotiations is the fundamental difference between the US’ and the EU’s approach toward evaluating food safety. Both the US and EU want to achieve a high level of food safety and consumer protection. The laws of both parties are actually quite similar, but due to cultural, political and institutional differences, the US and the EU each have very different perceptions of what constitutes risk and thus very different regulatory approaches. For example; in the EU, the precautionary principle (Art. 7 of the General Food Law), also referred to as the ’better safe than sorry’ approach, is a fundamental part of risk management, whereas in the US, the concept is not endorsed as a basis for policy making. There the assessments are based on a cost-benefit analyses. Moreover, in the EU food safety is ensured from production to consumption; in the US food safety is mostly verified at the end of the process. There is also the perception that the rules and regulations regarding food safety in the EU are stricter than those in the US, even though the rates of food-borne illnesses, like salmonella, are significantly lower in the US.
These differences in Sanitary and Phytosanitary (SPS) regulatory approaches should get harmonised to make such a trade agreement possible. However, TTIP is not only about the regulatory approaches. TTIP is often discussed in terms of how differently it will impact the EU and the US. High profile SPS issues are, among others; hormone beef, GMOs, antibiotics in animal feed, cloning restrictions and US dairy standards. For instance, hormone beef has been banned in the EU since 1985, but in the US it is still permitted. Former Commissioner of Trade Karel De Gucht has repeated many times that EU standards will not be lowered: “There will be no hormone-beef in Europe and we will not change the way we legislate GMOs.”
In the beginning of January 2015, the European Commission published a proposal on the SPS measures, also called “food safety and animal and plant health measures”. These policies and regulations are set to ensure that food in the EU is safe. However, an analysis of the Commission’s proposal by Friends of the Earth Europe and a number of partner NGOs raised a number of issues about the impact on food safety and animal welfare. These include; the priority given to maximising trade, the shift of power from national governments to a new trade committee, the threat to the ability of local authorities to set higher standards, the risk to minimal health and safety checks for novel foods (including GMOs, cloned animals, and nanomaterials), non-binding provisions for animal welfare, and the required adoption of less strict international food standards established through the World Trade Organisation (WTO).
The analysis of the proposed text raises numerous important concerns about the ways in which TTIP could restrict efforts to build healthier, fairer and more sustainable food systems on both sides of the Atlantic. Although it is understandable that the EU wants to make this deal with the US to strengthen its economic position, it cannot do so at the expense of consumer protection, which is an essential part of EU law. During the TTIP negotiations the EU shall aim to continue to protect the rights of its consumers. This means that if the EU will not lower its food safety standards, the US will have to increase theirs, otherwise TTIP will never make it past the drawing board.